A PROPOSAL for a waste management facility at Leongatha South has got off to a bad start, with residents up in arms and South Gippsland’s mayor, Cr Jeanette Harding, criticising the way the developers, Veolia, have handled the situation.
“Council was surprised by the recent, unexpected announcement of a plan to create a landfill at Leongatha South,” writes the mayor in this week’s Mayor’s Message. “I am a little disappointed in the way the facility developers, Veolia, have handled the situation, as Council did not know about the plan until it was contacted by residents wanting to know the facts.”
A proposal to truck household and commercial industrial waste from Melbourne and dump it in South Gippsland was never going to be popular, but the proponents did themselves no favours by alerting locals of their plans – through a localised letter drop and door knocking exercise on August 3 – even before they briefed Council on August 5.
A number of residents promptly rang their local councillors to express alarm at the proposal. The councillors were not impressed with having to field calls on an issue about which they knew next to nothing.
As soon as practicable, which turned out to be Wednesday August 12, shire CEO Tim Tamlin appeared on ABC local radio and a media briefing was arranged for local press in order to set the facts straight and put to rest the rampant rumours.
“Let’s deal with the facts. The meeting today is about dispelling the rumours,” said Mr Tamlin at the media briefing.
The mayor said it was an issue of concern right across the shire, not just in Leongatha South. She said she had received half a dozen phone calls, including calls from people in Toora and Welshpool.
“I know we’re sounding selfish when we say ‘Not in our back yard,’ but I support the community in this,” said Cr Harding. “Melbourne can take their waste somewhere else!”
Mr Tamlin said the proposed rubbish dump was clearly a deeply emotive issue for the community, with the proposal provoking a similar reaction as coal seam gas. However, he and the shire’s director of development services, Bryan Sword, stressed that it was “still early days,” with Council yet to receive a planning permit application. Once it is – expected to be later this year – it will be considered by Council at a future council meeting.
“We look forward to having an informed discussion with the community. We need to wait for the detail,” said Mr Sword.
“The community can be comfortable that they will be consulted,” he added. “Until we see an application the community shouldn’t be concerned.”
The planning permit application, explained the planning director, will be assessed in accordance with the Planning and Environment Act (1987) under the provisions of the South Gippsland Planning Scheme.
Several different agencies, including the Environment Protection Authority (EPA), VicRoads and possibility the local water catchment authority are likely to have input into any decision on the proposal, which will require the approval of the EPA.
Council has committed to ensuring the community has ample opportunity to submit feedback on the proposal. Community information sessions will be held following lodgement of a planning permit application.
Veolia is encouraging residents who want to learn more to view their website, in particular the Frequently Asked Questions, or contact the community information line on 0428 928 561.
Mr Tamlin said the proposal has come at a time when significant developments are taking place in waste management. He said it could be that technology will advance sufficiently in the near future to make landfill operations less necessary.
Mr Tamlin pointed to one exciting development which sees South Gippsland combining with five other municipalities to form the Gippsland Collaborative Waste Investment Initiative. The councils are jointly committing to test private sector interest in waste driven investments in the region and are calling for registrations of interest before early September. They are looking for viable commercial proposals that would manage waste materials in environmentally sustainable ways, perhaps with a capacity to deal with garden, food or other organic waste, possibly with a capacity to reduce the impact of extensive waste haulage distances. Registrations of interest are also sought from industrial and other waste generators or suppliers and prospective collaborative partners.