THE STATE’s Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) will deliver a final verdict on a new sand quarry for Williamtown, after the Department of Planning gave its endorsement to the controversial proposal on Friday.
Some neighbouring residents broke down in tears as they were informed of the news, which comes while they are locked in a bitter battle with Defence for compensation over toxic contamination from the RAAF base that has rendered their properties unsaleable.
Port Stephens MP Kate Washington was livid at the decision, blasting it as “cruel” and “indifferent to the suffering” of residents.
“There’s only so much stress families can take,” she said. “I fear this news will push residents to breaking point.”
Residents hold grave concerns about the effect the quarry would have on their health and the environment, but a Department of Planning spokesperson said it had “exhaustively and cautiously” assessed the matters.
Determining whether the quarry would aggravate the per- and poly-fluoroalkyl [PFAS] contamination had been of the “utmost importance”, they said. The department sought advice from the Williamtown Contamination Expert Panel, which found the proposal was low-risk if quarry operations remained above the water table.
“The Cabbage Tree Road sand quarry plans do not propose to interfere with the groundwater table or local surface water,” the spokesperson said, adding that independent tests of bore water on the site had returned a negative result.
However the department would recommend the company be made to comply with consent conditions, including regulating the sand extraction depth, monitoring groundwater levels and appointing an independent expert to annually review information on Williamtown’s PFAS contamination issue.
If the quarry is approved, the Williamtown Sand Syndicate will extract more than three million tonnes of sand over its lifespan of up to 15 years.
The quarry would employ six permanent employees, generating $16 million for Port Stephens Council, which holds a lease over the land.
The Newcastle Herald previously reported that the original plans for the sand mine had been pared back – in response to dozens of objections by residents – shrinking its footprint from 68 to 42 hectares.
The company also agreed to provide an emergency avoidance lane eastbound on Cabbage Tree Road, while the Department of Planning has recommended acceleration and deceleration lanes at the entrance to the quarry.