Policy changes over contaminated soil a double edged sword for Lake Macquarie

Legacy: The Pasminco smelter, which closed in 2003, pictured here in 1991. Lake Macquarie City Council has made a submission in response to proposed changes to state remediation policy.

Legacy: The Pasminco smelter, which closed in 2003, pictured here in 1991. Lake Macquarie City Council has made a submission in response to proposed changes to state remediation policy.

Changes to state government policy for dealing with contaminated land could be a double-edged sword for Lake Macquarie City Council.

It could mean the council gets a better idea of how much contaminated land there is in the city – and what’s being done to manage it – but there are also concerns that the changes could slow road work and other infrastructure projects, the council’s submission to the NSW Planning and Environment review into remediation policy said.

Legacy lead contamination from the former Pasminco smelter, which ran for more than 100 years until its closure in 2003, has made contamination remediation a “significant issue” in Lake Macquarie, it noted.

The submission, signed-off by council CEO Morven Cameron, said there were about 3000 parcels of land within the council’s boundaries that had either been contaminated or were “potentially” contaminated – most of these a result of the smelter’s operations.

The former smelter site in 2008. Picture: Brock Perks

The former smelter site in 2008. Picture: Brock Perks

The council has called for the state government to classify Lake Macquarie “a special area”, so it could continue to manage contamination under the guidelines that the Lead Expert Working Group presented to NSW Parliament in late 2016 in response to the Pasminco issue.

Mayor Kay Fraser told the Newcastle Herald that the state’s proposal to make it compulsory for developers to provide a certified remediation plan to councils for “category two” cases, which don’t require development consent for the clean-up to proceed, would be helpful – it meant council would have a better understanding of how contamination was being managed in the city.

But she said a new rule that meant work would have to immediately stop when unexpected contamination was found would put council at risk of falling behind in its infrastructure projects. Council’s submission noted that slag related to the smelter was found “daily” in parts of the city and councils should not have to stop work if contamination was “well categorised” and there was an established process for dealing with unexpected discoveries. 

Cr Fraser said introducing a blanket stop-work rule would hinder the “streamlining” process that had been developed in recent years.

“One of the concerns I have is about the new provisions for unexpected finds that require all work to cease,” she said.

“Council crews often encounter contamination in areas such as road work and construction but it is managed straight away. This may impact on council delivering projects and roadworks in a scheduled manner.”

The changes are open for public feedback on the NSW Planning and Environment website until April 13.

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