Controversy has surrounded the waste operation of Ben’s Bobcats and North Coast Recycling, and the building of two colorbond sheds for the establishment of a waste management facility and bobcat business that was approved at a site in the Russellton Industrial Estate in Alstonville in 2012. Neighbouring business operators on the industrial estate allege that the waste management facility has operated outside its development application (DA) conditions from the beginning. They say the current application to significantly increase the scope of the waste management business that comes before the Northern Regional Planning Panel (NRPP) this Wednesday evening is merely a means to legitimise its illegal activities since it began operation.
According to Jeffrey Gibbs who is CEO and founder of the Northern Light Candle Company, that has been located at the Russellton Industrial Estate since 2003, and is a neighbouring site, Ben’s Bobcats started receiving waste to process prior to receiving its final occupation certificate (FOC) on 25 August, 2016.
‘In November 2013 they received their first dump that was already more than the DA conditions allowed,’ said Mr Gibbs.
‘They were originally allowed 1,000 tonnes of construction material to crush to create the beds for the two colorbond sheds they were building. This was to be crushed by a small mobile crusher that the noise impact statement said would be “very small (about the size of a bobcat)”. But this was quickly replaced by a large 20 tonne crusher that we were told would only operate for “two to four days”. I was contacted by Ballina Shire Council officer on December 13, 2013 to ask if it had stopped crushing. But it has remained on site and in use since that time; including as recently as last Saturday November 14, 2019 and currently has 20,000 tonnes stored on the site.’
Mr Gibbs says he has photographic evidence to support his assertion that they are processing up to 30,000 tonnes of construction waste a year and have 20-30,000 tonnes stored on the site at any one time.
‘According the their FOC and DA, I have a hard copy of the original DA, they were allowed 1,000 tonnes of construction waste stored on site and to crush up to 6,000 tonnes per year,’ said Mr Gibbs.
It is also clear that Ballina Shire Council (BSC) were aware of the business operating outside its DA conditions prior to the FOC being granted in 2016. Rachel Jenner, BSC environmental health officer emailed BSC building surveyor David Tyler on April 1, 2016 stating, ‘I note this premises is still operating even though they haven’t obtained a [F]OC or complied with their consent.
‘The EPA has raised this with me several times and now they have passed on the information that BS Council civil crews are using this facility to dispose of their waste. This may leave Council in a very vulnerable position with the EPA.
‘I am not sure what the statute of limitations for us to take action but I am concerned the time is really passing on this matter.’
Mr Tyler responded on April 5, 2016 stating that, ‘I did final inspection some time ago and Macc also did final plumbing. Ban (sic) was advised to have these matters addressed that he needs an interim Occupation Certificate at least in order to operate… It does make it difficult for us when other Council sections a utilising the facility that is operating without an Occupation Certificate.
‘I believe it’s a planning compliance issue if they are operating without an Occupation Certificate.’ This email was copied to BSC staff members Stephen Rendall, Vince Hunt, and Cathryn Wilson.
The FOC was granted on August 25, 2016. However, it is alleged that North Coast Recycling continued to breach its consent conditions.
‘I understand from Mr Gibbs, who has photos and video evidence, that BSC delivered trucks full of hard waste for crushing and pulverising on occasions up until February 2018,’ said Ballina Councillor Sharon Parry who attended a recent meeting with Mr Gibbs and BSC general manager Paul Hickey.
‘The general manager did state [at the meeting] that he had been up to that time unaware of Council taking hard waste to Ben’s Bobcats/ North Coast Recycling. He said he immediately required Council staff to cease delivering waste to this business. The general manager did say that this was a mistake but that it had [been] swiftly addressed at the time.’
According to the Development Application Assessment Form from 2012 (the original DA application is not available on the DA online facility of Ballina Shire Council’s website) ‘All crushing of clean builder’s waste will occur in shed A, therefore no dust will be released’.
However, according to Mr Gibbs the storage of the waste material and the crushing is primarily taking place outside and is not shielded to reduce the dust.
Councillor Parry, who recently visited the Northern Light Candle Company, noted that during her visit that she ‘Could feel and see thick dust. My eyes, nose immediately reacted – watering profusely’. This was when no machinery from Ben’s Bobcats and North Coast Recycling was in operation.
‘The candle-making is immaculate and appears to be carefully sealed, but still the dust gets in,’ she told Echonetdaily.
‘The staff told me they have to wipe everything down each and every morning. My appointment was at 11am, and dust had accumulated everywhere.’
Questions have also been raised over the management of asbestos waste at North Coast Recycling with a statement being supplied to the EPA and the NRPP stating that asbestos has not been managed according to EPA procedures.
According to a previous member of staff at the company they had been stopped carrying out appropriate procedures in relation to the management of asbestos contaminated waste at the site. Mr Luke Graham, who was the only person at the site who had an Asbestos Certificate at the time, alleges he was overridden by business owner Ben Graham when he called in an Asbestos find in a load in July/August in 2018.
In a statement to the EPA on January 2, 2019 he states that, ’Before I could complete the Asbestos procedure I was stopped by Ben Graham and Michelle [office staff]. Workers were instnucted (sic) to continue working and the load in question was pushed inLo (sic) the rest of the rubbish pile. This is not the only time I have witnessed Asbestos in the rubbish.’
He has made a further statement to the NRPP confirming his previous statement adding, ‘Ben Graham and the Manager Ray Eggins then had an intense argument over staff safety and the procedures that should be followed accordingly. Ben Graham talked him down. The Asbestos stayed in the shed with the staff all that day and was shipped to the Ipswich landfill.’
An EPA spokesperson has confirmed with Echonetdaily that, ‘The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is aware of allegations about the receipt of asbestos at a business located in the industrial area in Alstonville.
‘The EPA has undertaken several inspections of this facility and enquiries into these allegations are ongoing.’
Ballina Shire council have confirmed that in regards to asbestos they have carried out regular inspections of the business including soil and dust sampling.
Councillor Parry told Echonetdaily that, ‘I am informed by Council that the Environmental Analysis Laboratory at Southern Cross University (EAL) was tasked by the Council with one data collection of surface samples at a number of sites on the property in the Russellton Estate, and that the results showed no statistically significant asbestos fibre in the samples collected… I have seen the report from another independent analysis, commissioned by Mr Gibbs, of samples on properties adjacent to North Coast Recycling. One of the sites did yield statistically significant readings of asbestos.’
The DA for expansion of the current facility is, ‘a proposal for the expansion of an existing resource recovery facility to process 30,000 tonnes per annum of construction waste and carry out associated building works, infrastructure works and earthworks,’ said a spokesperson for Ballina Shire council.
‘The application has been the subject of four public exhibition periods as follows: 22 November 2017 – 22 December 2017; 11 April 2018 – 14 May 2018; 18 July 2018 – 20 August 2018; 13 February 2019 – 18 March 2019… The recommendation to the Panel is for the approval of the proposed development subject to conditions.’
The NRPP is meeting in relation to this application at 6pm on Wednesday, 20 November.
♦ Ben Graham was contacted by Echonetdaily but has not responded before deadline.