Tweed Shire Council will drop proposed court action against the owner of a property near Tyalgum where alleged illegal earthworks caused massive pollution of a nearby waterway, prompting a major clean up.
But two councillors say there is still significant pollution of adjoining properties, including crown land near Tyalgum Road and water in Hopping Dicks Creek as a result of the alleged earthworks early last year, and are not satisfied with clean-up notices issued by state agencies for the water pollution caused by run-off as a result.
Mayor Gary Bagnall said the developer responsible for the alleged ‘destruction of the landscape’ and ‘bulldozing half a hill into the creek’ had ‘walked scot free’ under the state’s clean-up regime and council should be .
Council planners say a former high-flying Gold Coast developer, John Fish, has been actively involved in the works on the 1,000-acre site and is a main point of contact for council staff, along with his daughter Grace, the sole director of the company which owns the site of several parcels of land near the scenic Limpinwood village.
Mr Fish is reported to have fought off bankruptcy five years ago, owing more than $1 million to creditors.
Cr Bagnall and Greens Cr Katie Milne failed last Thursday in their bid to tighten local control of ongoing management and monitoring of the waterway affected by the major pollution event.
Councillors voted 4-2 (Crs Milne and Bagnall against) for council to: discontinue proposed action in the NSW Land and Environment Court over the alleged illegal road and house-pad site, accept that remediation of the affected waterway under the state’s clean-up notice was ‘satisfied’, and refer the issue to the Tweed River Committee for advice on the ongoing management and monitoring of the waterway.
Cr Milne, who had moved for the issue to be referred to the river committee for ongoing advice, said significant pollution of the site and creek, a platypus habitat, was obvious and potentially an ongoing problem requiring clean up.
She asked if there were any further legal avenues to take, but Mr Connell said it was very difficult for council to revisit compliance actions against the developer given the state agencies had signed off of the clean-up notices.
He said council was also limited in what remediation it could force the owner to do.
Cr Milne replied that ‘It’s our clean-up notice and it should be to our satisfaction, not the state government’.
She said a long-term plan to improve water quality in the creek should be mandated instead of council ‘writing off’ the clean-up notice.
‘We have a dilemma then with all different levels of compliance actions, it’s appalling, the developer does the damage then the ratepayers have to pay for it.
‘I’m disappointed we just accept this standard of remediation,’ Cr Milne said.
Cr Bagnall said ‘any reasonable person’ could see the clean-up was inadequate as ‘there’s still a metre of mud there’.
He said he’d inspected the site several times and filmed the ‘significant’ pollution as it ‘came down the road into the stream, with over a metre of mud and sludge lodged in the tributary and flowing into a neighbour’s property’.
He said crystal-clear water was evident in the creek, even during torrential rain, upstream from the earthworks site, but downstream it was ‘all mud’.
‘I’ve never seen mudflows like this and we shouldn’t just accept dcvelopers wreaking this type of destruction on our waterways’, he said.
Cr Bagnall said grass and flower plantings the developer planted to remediate the site were inadequate as ‘every time it rains it will get muddy’.
‘This (developer) is getting off scot free despite the destruction of the landscape, we’re talking half a great big hillside he’s moved and pushed into the creek.
‘If I did that, council staff would be onto me in five minutes, yet this guy just walks scot free, despite those works going on for six months.’
But Cr Warren Polglase said ‘sorry the horse has already bolted on this and maybe we should have been more pro-active at the start of the process, not at the end’.
Cr Carolyn Byrne said it was concerning the developer had been ‘given the green light from the state to say the remediation had been done to its satisfaction’, yet the question remained of who would pay for ongoing remediation.
[More to come]
See earlier story at http://www.echo.net.au/2014/04/tweed-waterway-pollution-blamed-earthworks/