A recent photo of Council staff working on the dividing wall to stop pollution at Council’s Crystal Creek quarry. Photo Tweed Shire Council
The cost of cleaning up a creek polluted by a quarry owned and operated by Tweed Shire Council, as well as compliance with state environmental guidelines, is set to run over $1 million, it was revealed this week.
Ironically, the quarry near Murwillumbah is at the heart of controversial code of conduct charges laid by former general manager David Keenan against two councillors who rang alarm bells about the pollution after inspecting it late last year.
The shock revelation of the clean-up costs came after Cr Gary Bagnall, who, with Greens Cr Katie Milne, was charged by the former GM for ‘trespassing’ on the Council quarry, asked a question on notice at Council’s meeting on Thursday.
Cr Bagnall had asked whether the rock at Kinnear’s Quarry polluting the adjacent creek was uncovered before Council bought it, and what was the expected cost of remediating the pollution from the time the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) served notice on council to comply over a 10-year period.
Council’s engineering director Patrick Knight responded that as no current staff were involved in the purchase of the quarry in May 1991, it was not possible to give a ‘definitive answer’.
But Mr Knight said anecdotal evidence from field staff who worked in the quarry was that ‘the carbonaceous shale was exposed when council commenced operations’ and ‘it is confirmed that the material was visible after July 1998’.
Mr Knight then detailed the cost of compliance to date for water treatment, revegetation and consultant fees of more than $700,000 and a future estimate of almost $400,000.
On Thursday Cr Milne also moved for a report to be prepared as soon as possible on the state of an adjacent, unnamed creek at Harrys Road and recommendations for remediation.
The motion was passed 4–3, with pro-development bloc Crs Warren Polglase, Phil Youngblutt and Carolyn Byrne voting against it.
Cr Bagnall told the meeting on Thursday that the EPA was overseeing the move to improve the quality of the creek adjacent to the quarry, ironically located in the ‘Crystal Creek’ catchment.
He said the acid-sulphate level of the water was being monitored and results posted on council’s website for the community to ‘keep watch’ on its quality, which had been affected by the quarry.
‘Council has spent lots of money on this creek. It’s thoroughly polluted and we’re at fault, and it does flow through other people’s properties,’ he said.
Cr Bagnall said pollution there had been significantly reduced recently but the report was needed to determine costs and methods of remediation.
For their efforts in responding to a complaint from a neighbour of the quarry about the pollution and exposing it to the general public, the two councillors were cited by Mr Keenan for ‘unauthorised’ entry of the quarry and not wearing protective clothing at the site.
The two councillors were filmed by a security camera as they stepped through and over a flimsy wire fence so they themselves could take pictures.
Mr Keenan had also insisted the code of conduct breaches were kept secret, but Cr Bagnall said they were inappropriate and ‘over the top’.
Cr Bagnall was also subject to threats, which police investigated, by people he said were ‘trying to shut me up about it’.
At the time, Cr Bagnall told media he was ‘shocked we weren’t told about this; no-one knows that council is a polluter’.
He said the creek had a layer of red silt ‘all along the length of it and the stuff coats, suffocates and kills everything’.
Cr Bagnall said they had ‘simply stepped over a three-strand barbed wire fence’ surrounding the quarry ‘to see if a recently constructed dam complied with health and safety rules under the Act’.
An attempt by mayor Barry Longland for mediation on the issue between the councillors and the GM at the time was rejected by Mr Keenan.
The two councillors said they were simply doing their job by inspecting the quarry, which neighbours had long complained about polluting the nearby creek.
Cr Bagnall also said at the time that he believed the charge was politically motivated.
All three quarries in the Crystal Creek–Numinbah area, including council’s, have ceased to fully operate following complaints over the years and court action by a neighbouring landowner about noise, dust and water pollution.
Last year, the owners of one blamed the expense of a court battle over the alleged pollution forcing them to close it down.
Some local farmers, including Tweed Combined Rural Industries spokesman Neil Baker, at the time told media they feared the court case could close every quarry in NSW.
Mr Baker was prominent among those calling recently for council to be sacked for terminating Mr Keenan’s contract, saying Crs Bagnall and Milne should not have been allowed to vote on the issue because of their code of conduct charges.
Echonetdaily understands the charges have not proceeded any further.