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Union threat to disrupt major projects

By Bill Birnbauer, The Age, Monday 18 December 2000

Building unions have threatened to ban the removal of contaminated soil from major projects such as the Docklands because of the way the State Government has handled the establishment of a multi-million dollar hazardous-waste facility in Victoria.

Trades Hall and the Australian Conservation Foundation have accused Environment Minister Sherryl Garbutt of trying to bury the controversial issue by releasing a major statement on the facility late on a Friday two weeks ago.

Earlier this month Ms Garbutt endorsed a consultative committee's recommendation for a shift from traditional landfills to state-of-the-art repositories that recycle waste, and long-term containment facilities that hold residual waste.

The committee recommended that the strategy be implemented over four to five years.

But Brian Boyd, the industrial and campaigns officer at Trades Hall, said landfills at Tullamarine and Lyndhurst were almost full and that a crisis was developing.

Bans on the removal of contaminated soil, which comprises 35per cent of the solid waste in landfills, would begin in the New Year.

If it jams up the major projects, so what? Mr Boyd said. We're not going to wait four or five years. If we don't have those soil recycling centres set up within the next 24 months then we're going to have a crisis about where to put contaminated soil.

Mr Boyd said the bans would result in the stockpiling of contaminated soil on building sites and would delay major projects.

Last month Niddrie residents celebrated the scrapping of plans for a toxic waste dump at Niddrie quarry and in 1998 Werribee residents stopped a toxic waste dump proposed by CSR.

This led to the formation of the consultative committee by the Kennett government. Its report, released in April this year, recognised that the issue of siting was highly contentious but did not make any recommendations about sites.

Ms Garbutt said a taskforce would be formed next year to examine siting.

Finding a site is likely to be a lengthy and controversial process. Speculation has begun about sites on Ballarat's basalt plains and in East Gippsland.

Mr Boyd said the Tullamarine landfill was almost full and approval had been sought, but was not yet granted, for another 11 metres of waste at Lyndhurst. But this site would be full in about two years.

The government's response to the committee's report also predicted problems in the transition from landfills.

These included more waste being stored on site, an increase in illegal dumping and industry becoming dependent on interstate transport for treatment and disposal.

The ACF's Peter Brotherton said environment groups such as his, Greenpeace and Environment Victoria, had been excluded from the consultative process on the waste facility.

While the Office of Major Projects would be calling for industry expressions of interest in soil recycling centres, Dr Brotherton described the ventures as very fraught businesses and said they should be run by government.

He also expressed concern about proposals to continue burning some hazardous waste in cement kilns.

A spokeswoman for the Hazardous Materials Action Group, Colleen Hartland, said Labor had lost touch with community environment groups since winning government. There were thousands of contaminated sites in Victoria, she said.