Toxic waste under Barangaroo: taxpayers to foot bill?




Barangaroo.jpgPublished March 31, 2016 - Melanie Kembrey

Greens MP Jamie Parker said it was unfair that taxpayers could be left paying an enormous clean-up bill while developers profited from the land.

The clean-up of toxic waste beneath Barangaroo is getting started, despite ongoing uncertainty about who will foot the multimillion-dollar bill.

The government agency running the controversial harbour-front development could not say how much it will cost to remove the deadly chemicals from the ground or if taxpayers would end up paying for it.

Image: Sydney Morning Herald, Dallas Kilponen


The Millers Point gasworks, which operated on the site between 1841 and 1921, has left behind a toxic legacy of waste tar made up of chemicals including benzene, cyanide and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

The Barangaroo Delivery Authority maintains that the utility firm Jemena, which acquired the company that operated the gasworks, should have to pay for the clean-up.

But Jemena has launched legal proceedings, last year stating that the remediation goes far beyond what is necessary and is an attempt to excavate for future developments.

While the negotiations are ongoing, the delivery authority has started the process to remove about 150,000 tonnes of contaminated material, which may be carcinogenic to humans and toxic to aquatic ecosystems, from beneath the Central Barangaroo site.

The remediation will see the concrete slab covering the site removed and coal tar excavated and trucked away to waste facilities. The work will be conducted beneath tents, the authority says, so there is no threat of dust or odours posing a health risk for nearby residents or workers.

A less disruptive pilot trial is also underway to remediate contaminated material where it currently is beneath Hickson Road.

The delivery authority's remediation director, Andrew Tompson, said there was a "polluter pays" principle in NSW but could not guarantee that taxpayers would not be left paying for the clean-up.

"The clean-up is something the government has committed to. We are in conversation with the original polluter as to how they might contribute to that," Mr Tompson said.

Mr Tompson also said it was not yet known how much the three-year clean-up would cost, although earlier estimates put the figure at $98 million.

"This is a multimillion-dollar project. It's the nature of gas works that there is uncertainty about what is in the ground. It is a significant project."

The Environmental Protection Authority determined that the site needed to remediated in 2009, and has identified the original polluter as Jemena.

A Jemena spokeswoman said the firm was working to resolve the matter.

"Jemena is prepared to pay a fair and reasonable contribution for the remediation of the former gasworks site. This has to take into account the long and complex history of the site and the intervening industrial uses that have occurred," the spokeswoman said.

Central Barangaroo, located between Barangaroo and the Barangaroo Reserve, will include residential and commercial buildings as well as the future Barangaroo Sydney Metro Station.

Developer bids for the site have ended and evaluation of the submissions are expected to be finished by the end of March.

Greens MP Jamie Parker said it was unfair that taxpayers could be left paying an enormous clean-up bill while developers profited from the land.


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