GOVERNMENTS should never be the subject of the following statement.
“The whole thing is a complete shambles. It’s like they have no idea what they are doing.”
The man who said that, Mark Hambier, has a home at Boolaroo.
He is one of many Boolaroo residents left to deal with the legacies of the former Pasminco lead and zinc smelter, after hundreds of properties were found to have soil with lead levels much higher than the national health guidelines of 300 parts per million.
In Mr Hambier’s case the level is 720 parts per million.
In its Toxic Truth series the Newcastle Herald revealed how badly Boolaroo residents had been treated by authorities keen to keep a lid on the extent of the environmental health problem in the area.
Governments scrambled to respond, and residents were advised contaminated grass and soil had to be scraped off and removed, and clean soil brought in.
Mr Hambier is one resident who took authorities at their word and took action, organising for 150mm of contaminated grass and soil to be removed to Summerhill tip as directed.
What occurred after that is another example of government departments failing to recognise the basic respect owed to people who have been wronged through no fault of their own.
Mr Hambier’s property features piles of contaminated soil as he waits in limbo for the green light to take the soil to a designated containment cell at Summerhill tip.
In the meantime he has been told he can pay to have the soil loaded into a skip bin or bins and have it stored at Summerhill. All at his own expense. And why would he?
Why trust the word of a government department representative who advised the containment facility will be ready to accept soil in six weeks, when residents were told in 2016 that they could offload the soil in February? And then August.
Why incur a cost on the government never never?
Residents at Boolaroo have had to deal with the trauma of finding out lead levels in many areas are much higher than they could reasonably have expected, even given the proximity of the smelter.
It is the responsibility of government to provide timely, efficient and transparent responses. And that hasn’t happened.