Coastal Sun May 23rd 2002 – Warning from Port Kembla / Expansion Stopped by Charcoal Plant / Safe Firewood? / Comparing Costs / Editorial

Published with permission

Warning from Port Kembla

Helen Hamilton, from Port Kembla, travelled to Batemans Bay on Sunday specifically to warn residents and ratepayers that ‘significant’ developments, such as the Port Kembla Copper Smelter, can have dire consequences. She was one of several speakers, including Joe Smith, well-known solicitor, and Vic Matthews, a local businessman, who gathered at the high school to talk to residents about the charcoal plant.

Helen was thrust into the limelight at Port Kembla, when chosen by the community to ‘take’ Planning NSW ‘on’ as it were. She has no assets and therefore had nothing to lose, if the Land and Environment Court decision ruled in favour of the government. As it happened, the Carr Government passed legislation to ensure that the community never got its day in court.

This plant was purported to have the most advanced environmentally-friendly technology ever. The government also promised that the most stringent EPA monitoring would take place.

Ms Hamilton warned Batemans Bay that this was a ‘hollow’ promise.

Port Kembla Copper is not yet in full operation. It used 70% of its 2002 quota of emission breaches in the first quarter of the year. The audience gaped in horror as Helen spoke about the health problems incurred by residents especially children who live near the plant. Many teenagers have been diagnosed with leukemia.

The primary school was relocated but a Catholic school and a child-minding centre are within spitting distance. Schools live with a ‘traffic light’ warning system in the staff rooms. The children are allowed outside to play if the light is green. Red means they stay inside, safe from harmful carcinogenic chemicals contained in the emissions from the smelter and the sulphurous gas.

Even those working inside the plant have health problems. The heat is intense. One man’s shoes melted as he stood on a steel walkway.

Expansion Stopped by Charcoal Plant

The Charcoal Information Meeting held in Batemans Bay last Sunday attracted new speakers from the Bay and beyond.

Local business identities, Joe Smith and Vic Matthews, plus Helen Hamilton from Port Kembla were the new additions to Charcoalition’s ranks.

Urban expansion will be effectively stopped by the charcoal plant development, according to solicitor, Joe Smith. He explained that, for years, business colleagues up and down the coast believed Batemans Bay was the coastal town that would forge ahead. Unlike Ulladulla and others, the Bay, has room for urban expansion to the south. He pointed out, “Link roads leading to the beaches attract the big dollars. It is already happening. Several new estates have been built and more are on the drawing board.”

“And what does the government do? They put a charcoal factory right in the middle.

“Property values in the vicinity have already fallen and will fall further if the plant goes ahead. The people that already own property there will be stuck and they will lose a sizeable sum.” Joe Smith’s family has one hundred years of history in this shire. Joe said, “My family has never stood up against any development before. This one blew me away.

“I will urge the business sector to support this appeal because no government should do what this government has done to this shire.

“Many businessmen are worried they will lose customers, if they voice their stance. People are not stupid. They will understand, as I did, when my wife reminded me we have a granddaughter – one of the future generation and we must stand up and be counted.”

“No-one in this shire – no-one in this world – seriously thinks that once the plant begins operation, the government will regulate to stop the problems that will flow on. We have to stop it now,” he finished.

Vic Matthews, owner of Vision Vogue, urged the audience to unite and fight the plant. “Evil will prevail when enough good people do nothing,” he quoted. “The evil here is three-pronged – NSW Labor, Australian Silicon and some of the community. Our greatest enemy is complacency. If we do nothing, evil will triumph.

” Vic will join Joe to fundraise in the days to come. Other speakers included members of the Charcoalition and the Mayor Peter Cairney. A surprise speaker from the floor, P. Bradstreet, had a few hard but true words for the audience to swallow. “This fight will not be won with emotional arguments. It will be won with facts. I know the issue has an emotive aspect, but you have to set that aside.” The Batemans Bay meeting proved Vic Matthew’s words regarding complacency.

The turnout was disappointing for the Charcoalition, who had worked so hard to lay out the facts to residents.

Safe Firewood?

Peter Fatches from Mogo informed residents at a public meeting that there appeared to be ‘Tordon’ treated timber on the Maulbrooks Road.

He videoed a large tract of dead trees varying in size from saplings to full-grown. He also found a pile of wood-fire size logs lying among the dead trees and is worried that people are cutting the trees to use as firewood.

Silviculture is an accepted forestry practice, used to cull forests, allowing native plants to survive. Tordon FDSH is used to poison trees for this purpose. Tordon FDSH is registered for this use in NSW. It does not contain the dioxins 2-4-D. Tordon 101 and Agent White are the brand names for herbicides that do contain 2-4-D as a constituent Their use is prohibited by law.

David McKenzie from CSIRO does not know if the burning of Tordon FDSH treated timber releases dioxins into the atmosphere.

State Forests say advice, received from the manufacturer, indicates if the ‘tordon’ wood is used in a closed fireplace, with a good flue system, there is no risk. It is not advised to burn it in open fires.

State Forests [say that they] do not issue permits to cut up waste timber, in Tordon treated areas. People do so at their own risk and are breaking the law.

Mr Fatches said there were no signs to indicate the wood was poisonous.

Comparing Costs

On February 1, 2001, The Shires Association of NSW met. Eleven representatives from shires across the state were present including Cr Vardon. On the agenda was an item put forward by Cowra Council, seeking assistance with legal costs in a matter in which it was involved.

A development application lodged with council had been called in by the Planning Minister for determination, on the basis that it was ‘state significant’.

The application related to the establishment and operation of a quartz mine near Cowra by Australian Silicon Pty Ltd – an integral part of its three-pronged silicon plant at Lithgow.

When a council receives a sizeable development application, the proponent is asked to contribute money for community facilities and services. These are called section 94 contributions.

Cowra Council’s section 94 plan required contributions from the company for $100,000 up front and $30,000 per annum for each year of the mine’s operation (21 years).

The Minister for Planning and Urban Affairs decided, when he called in the development that Cowra Council should only receive $100,000, the amount proposed by Australian Silicon which was contrary to the council’s section 94 plan.

Therefore it sought assistance with costs from the Association because the matter was significant to local government generally. Cowra considered there were issues of ethics and appropriateness in the Minister disregarding Cowra’s contributions plan.

If the Minister’s decision was allowed to stand, it would set a precedent for other councils and could lead to the Minister disregarding other council’s section 94 plans.

Council estimated that the cost of appealing this Planning NSW decision in the Land and Environment Court would be $35 thousand dollars.

The Shires Association recommended to assist Cowra Council, which it did. The case went to the land and Environment Court.

Since February last year it appears, according to Eurobodalla Shire Council, that the estimated costs of appealing a Planning NSW decision in the Land and Environment Court have risen by 98%.

Extraordinary Meeting – Extraordinary Information (Editorial)

Council voted to oppose the charcoal plant in Mogo.

Council voted to lodge a ‘merit’ action appeal in the Land and Environment Court against the Planning NSW decision to approve the charcoal plant.

Council voted to let the Shire decide whether or not to commit the funds needed to appeal.

Council voted to write a letter to all persons in the Shire seeking their permission to use funds for this purpose.

Council voted to educate the Shire by giving them all information needed to help them make an informed choice – both pros and cons.

This is how democracy works. Sadly, democracy can only work if the information provided is unbiased. Sadly, Council failed to do this. The information contained in [Council’s Information Sheet & Survey] was taken from a report written by Planning NSW, justifying its decision to approve the plant. The arguments put forth are the very ones that Council voted to appeal against in the Land and Environment Court.

Nowhere in the [Information sheet] are the reasons why Council thinks Planning NSW is wrong – the reasons Council included in its submission refuting the Environmental Impact Study – the reasons why the majority of councillors think the development is wrong on this site.

Alternate sources for information are included in the letter. A website for Planning NSW, a website for Charcoalition and a phone number for Australian Silicon, the company building the plant. Less than 50% of Shire residents are connected to the internet or even know how to use it. Close to 100% of residents in the Shire have a telephone.

Talk about the sins of omission! The Shire must now make a serious decision. Sadly, the Shire must now make this serious decision without being informed properly. Democratic process has proved once again to be less than democratic.

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