Water pouring out of the South Grafton council depot site.
Water pouring out of the South Grafton council depot site. Tim Howard

UPDATE: Council washes hands of $15k depot fine

UPDATE: The Clarence Valley Council said it won't comment on the $15,000 for fine from the NSW Environment Protection Agency for its contractor on the South Grafton depot site.

The council's director corporate governance and works, Troy Anderson, said the problem was not of the council's making, so declined to comment on it.

ORIGINAL STORY: Authorities have fined the contractors working on the Clarence Valley Council depot site in South Grafton $15,000, but found no asbestos had leached from the former sewerage treatment plant.

Late last year the contractors, Hutchinson Builders, discovered asbestos pipes on the site, which according to anecdotal evidence, had been used as a dumping ground for rubbish.

But the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) said its tests of water samples taken from the runoff in March found no evidence of asbestos.

Instead the EPA fined Hutchinson because they had inadequate erosion and sediment controls in place at the site, which allowed sediment to flow into the stormwater system, and then into the Clarence River.

EPA manager regional operations North Coast Brett Nudd said erosion and sediment controls were not adequate at the time of the incident.

"EPA officers inspected the site in March during a heavy rain event and observed large volumes of turbid, sediment laden water leaving the site and entering the stormwater system," Mr Nudd said.

"The EPA took water samples of the stormwater discharge. These samples confirmed high sediment levels within the stormwater flowing from the site. The samples showed no evidence that asbestos, which has been detected on the site in the past, was present in the stormwater.

"Rainfall events can be unpredictable, this is why it's important that appropriate controls to prevent water pollution are in place at all times."

Hutchinson Builders are remediating the former sewage treatment plant and are responsible for the installation and maintenance of sedimentation and erosion controls on the site.

The EPA's investigation revealed that an erosion and sediment control plan had been developed for the site in 2016, however it had not been fully implemented.

It noted the plan had also not been updated to reflect the significant change in landform at the site.

Mr Nudd said the company is responsible for ensuring that sediment and erosion controls are kept up to date and that they reflect best practice standards and actual site conditions.

"Good sediment and erosion controls are important to ensure that the environment and community are protected. Sediment laden waters can have a major impact on local waterways and on aquatic organisms."

The EPA said it also issued a prevention notice to Clarence Valley Council and Hutchinson Builders which required them to submit an updated erosion and sediment control plan and to install the updated controls by March 29, 2017.

The notice was complied with and the EPA's subsequent inspections of the site confirm that appropriate controls are in place.

The EPA has promised to closely monitor the remediation and redevelopment of the site by the council.

The Daily Examiner has contacted the council for a comment. Hutchinson cannot comment because of its contract with the council.

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