The Victorian Ombudsman will investigate the EPA’s approval of three landfill sites to receive millions of tonnes of contaminated boring machine waste from the West Gate Tunnel Project.
The project’s builders, CPB John Holland Joint Ventures, announced in June that they had chosen one of the sites cleared by the EPA to receive waste soil generated by tunnel boring machines, which is contaminated with per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAs).
PFAs are chemicals used in firefighting foam that according to health department advice can be toxic to fish and some animals and can also accumulate in the bodies of people.
The project is expected to create 3 million tonnes of waste soils over 18 months, the EPA says.
Problems finding a place to dump soil, including opposition from community groups and legal action, have been a thorn in the side for the massive transport infrastructure project.
Ombudsman Deborah Glass says the investigation will consider whether the EPA’s decisions were in keeping with legislated environment protection requirements, and whether it gave consideration to human rights in approving the sites.
The EPA revoked its initial approval for the three sites last December following legal challenges by community groups.
In early 2021 the EPA approved new environmental management plans for the same the sites – namely Cleanaway Operations in Ravenhall, Hi-Quality Quarry Products in Bulla and a site operated by Maddingley Brown Coal in Bacchus Marsh.
The Bulla site was subsequently selected by the joint building venture.
The EPA said the new plans addressed an “administrative error” in the earlier documents and the sites had been “rigorously assessed to ensure all environmental risks are addressed”.
Ombudsman Deborah Glass says she’s concerned that without the action of community groups deficiencies in the EPA’s decision making may never have come to light.
“The community deserves to know if correct processes were followed when it came to deciding where tonnes of spoil could be disposed of, especially given the proximity to homes,” she said in a statement.
The investigation is separate to Supreme Court proceedings relating to the disposal of spoil and planning scheme amendments made by the planning minister.
It is expected to be finished by the end of this year, however Ms Glass said regardless of the finding the Ombudsman could not halt the project or make any orders about where the spoil should go.
The West Gate Tunnel will be a 17 kilometre road, including 6.8 kilometres of tunnel, connecting Melbourne’s west with the central city. It is envisaged as an alternative to the city’s heavily congested West Gate Bridge.
The $6.7 billion project is being delivered in partnership with toll-road operator Transurban, the Victorian government and the John Holland CPB joint venture.
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