A third council on Melbourne’s fringe has joined a Supreme Court fight against the Andrews government over its plans to dump 3 million tonnes of contaminated rock and soil from the troubled West Gate Tunnel project.
The legal move comes as the opposition and community groups call on the government to stop any contracts being signed with landfill operators until the court cases are resolved.
Maddingley Brown Coal landfill in Bacchus Marsh is one of the sites approved to take soil from the West Gate Tunnel.Credit:Luis Ascui
Hume is the latest council to pursue Planning Minister Richard Wynne in the Supreme Court in a bid to protect residents from risks associated with dumping soil contaminated with potentially carcinogenic chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.
The soil could be dumped at one or more of three landfill sites – Maddingley Brown Coal in Bacchus Marsh, Hi-Quality in Bulla and Cleanaway in Ravenhall.
Tunnelling can begin on the new toll road only once the landfills receive approvals and undergo major expansions and upgrades to store and process the soil. Work on the tunnel was to have begun in September 2019 but now cannot feasibly begin until late 2023 at the earliest.
Hume council voted unanimously to take the government to court after Melton and Moorabool councils launched legal proceedings against the minister in February.
All three councils are requesting a judicial review of Mr Wynne’s decision to override them and change local planning rules to allow the PFAS dirt to be dumped at the sites. The councils argue Mr Wynne’s planning approvals are invalid because they are based on separate environmental approvals granted by the Environment Protection Authority, which have since been quashed.
The EPA was forced to revoke its own approvals in December last year after admitting it made a legal error.
Despite the legal cases under way, sources close to the project say builders John Holland and CPB Contractors are poised to sign contracts with landfill operators in coming weeks.
Road toll giant Transurban has informed the Andrews government it expects a deal to be done with the landfill owners by the end of the month, a source close to the project confirmed.
Sunbury residents protest against plans to send contaminated soil to the Hi-Quality landfill in Bulla.Credit:No Toxic Soil in Sunbury Facebook page
Chris O’Neill, a spokesman for community group Sunbury Against Toxic Soil, which opposes plans to send contaminated soil to Hi-Quality, called on the government to ensure no contracts were signed with landfill operators until after the legal cases were complete.
He said the group would write to Hume Council to request that an injunction be sought to stop any deal from going ahead.
“We have been told to expect the contracts to be signed in the next six to eight weeks, regardless of these court cases,” Mr O’Neill said. “This would demonstrate a reckless disregard for the community.”
The community group held a rally on Sunday, which drew an estimated 500 supporters.
Opposition transport infrastructure spokesman David Davis said planning on the West Gate Tunnel was “shoddy” and he accused the EPA of rushing through its botched approvals to avoid parliamentary scrutiny.
The EPA first approved Maddingley and Hi-Quality’s soil disposal plans on September 1 last year – the same day the state opposition told Parliament it would seek to revoke controversial tunnelling rules that were relied upon for the approvals.
Mr Davis said contracts must not be signed with any landfill operators until the legal cases were resolved.
“It’s extraordinary that the government is proceeding without legal certainty,” he said.
A government spokeswoman said Mr Wynne considered “all relevant matters under the legislation” and “feedback from consultation with councils and stakeholders” when he approved planning scheme amendments for the three landfills to accept the project’s soil.
“As the amendments are a matter before the court it would be inappropriate to comment further,” she said.
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