Radiation risk is ‘unlikely’ from Cabbage Tree Road sand mine at Williamtown, backers say

UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: Horses in front of bushland where sand mining has been proposed in Williamtown (left) and a locked gate at the front entrance to the mine off Cabbage Tree Road (inset).
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: Horses in front of bushland where sand mining has been proposed in Williamtown (left) and a locked gate at the front entrance to the mine off Cabbage Tree Road (inset).

The Williamtown Sand Syndicate has moved to squash speculation it has links to controversial former billionaire Nathan Tinkler or the Mayor of Port Stephens Bruce MacKenzie, as it pushes for a new quarry to mine 3.25 million tonnes of sand. 

Its backers have also down-played the risk posed by stockpiles of radioactive waste buried on the site and an "equipment graveyard" potentially containing asbestos and heavy metals. 

In a report responding to the 128 public submissions, the company addressed concerns about Cr Mackenzie's involvement in the controversial awarding of a council tender to Tinkler-backed Castle Quarry Products. 

The lease was transferred to the Williamtown Sand Syndicate last year. 

"The Williamtown Sand Syndicate ownership structure is a group of local and independent investors and operators with no current, nor proposed future business association with Cr MacKenzie or Nathan Tinkler or any of their related entities.” 

A radioactive material called monazite was buried on the land - which borders Cabbage Tree Road - when it was used for mineral sand mining by RZM between the 1970s and the 1990s. 

However the report by Kleinfelder said the “likely location” of several buried trenches had been identified after it conducted a surface radiation survey in June, reviewed historic aerial photography and contacted a former RZM employee. 

“The monazite trenches are likely to be located outside the footprint of the proposed quarry and as such are unlikely to result in any radiation concerns,” it said. 

It rejected suggestions there should be routine monitoring for radiation during operations, saying there would be an immediate stop work if any foreign materials were encountered. 

As the Herald previously reported, the mine's footprint has been pared back by 22.5%. It will return a "gross gate value" of $50 million and inject over $17 million into council coffers over eight to 15 years. 

An assessment by the Williamtown Contamination Expert Panel previously found the firefighting contamination leaching from the nearby RAAF base would not affect the quarry’s operations, because it would not intersect with the groundwater table.

However the panel did not address the potential for the chemicals to spread in dust and Rhianna Gorfine from the Williamtown and Surround Residents Action Group said that was of a grave concern to residents.  

“This development is likely to be the straw that breaks the camels back and will crush the community. It is a development that really doesn’t belong within a hamlet of homes also dealing with the stress and fallout of the contamination.” 

The proponents acknowledged the project could contribute to the “potential cumulative stress” on residents, but noted an “unfortunate” decline in property prices already meant it was unlikely to have any further impact. 

The project is located within the Tomago Sandbeds, which provides drinking water for Newcastle. However a Hunter Water spokesperson said it was satisfied its concerns had been addressed and the quarry’s operations would not affect drinking water catchments. 

There would be an average of 126 movements from the site each day and an emergency avoidance lane would be created eastbound along Cabbage Tree Road to protect private vehicles stopped to make a right-hand turn. 


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