INSOLVENCY specialists Ferrier Hodgson were appointed administrators of the Pasminco group of companies in September 2001.
A deed of company arrangement was signed the following October, and Ferrier’s has been in charge of the rehabilitation and decontamination of the sprawling Boolaroo smelter site ever since. Over that time there has been any number of disputes between the major stakeholders – the administrators, the residents, the state government and Lake Macquarie City Council – over various aspects of the lead contamination legacy that the financial collapse of Pasminco left the surrounding community.
In the latest of these, Ferrier’s is apparently seeking to vary the terms and conditions under which it is obliged to monitor a containment cell that holds a huge amount of contaminated material that was buried during the clean-up of the site.
An application before the Department of Planning and Environment also shows that Ferrier’s wants to excise the containment cell from the overall subdivision, arguing that its existence makes it extremely difficult to finance further development.
As far as the monitoring of the containment cell is concerned, the government must hold Ferrier’s to account and ensure it continues its responsibilities, in perpetuity if necessary.
Although it says it lacks funds to adhere to all its conditions at the moment, it is difficult to believe it can’t cover these costs given it has told the department it expects to earn almost $60 million from Boolaroo land sales.
Eyebrows have been raised from time to time as to how long the project is taking, but in this respect the passing years should prove beneficial when it comes to paying for the clean-up, given the massive rise in land prices since the smelter shut in 2003.
As for excising the cell from the rest of the property, it is tempting to say that this should have been done as a matter of course, once the dimensions of the cell were finalised.
Responsibility for future contamination claims emerged early on as a concern at the Steel River industrial park at Mayfield, built on a former BHP steelworks dump, so there is plenty of experience in the region about how to best deal with such concerns.
As the council says, the Boolaroo site is a crucial development site. But it will not reach its potential while ever there are contamination issues, of any sort, in the wings.