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The Victorian environmental watchdog has admitted it was wrong to approve a plan to send the West Gate Tunnel's contaminated soil to a landfill in Melbourne's west days before being due to appear in the Supreme Court over the controversial approval.
On Monday, the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) sent a letter to Bacchus Marsh Grammar school and the Moorabool Environment Group – parties taking the regulator to court – admitting it did not have the legal grounds to approve a plan to send PFAS-contaminated soil to the Maddingley Brown Coal landfill in Bacchus Marsh.
Maddingley Brown Coal in Bacchus Marsh was one of the landfill sites approved to take soil from the West Gate Tunnel.CREDIT:LUIS ASCUI
The regulator stated it would quash its own approval, which could result in the plaintiffs withdrawing their test cases. The directions hearing for the two cases is listed for Wednesday. The parties filed for judicial review of the EPA's approval in early November.
The EPA's admission casts doubt on the validity of approvals granted to other landfills at Hi-Quality in Bulla and Cleanaway Ravenhall in September this year, posing yet another major roadblock in building the $6.7 billion toll road, which is already running a year late and facing a $3 billion cost blowout, leaked government documents show.
The EPA's principal solicitor, Christine Giles, admitted in the letter the EPA did not have the power to issue approvals for Maddingley to receive the project's waste.
The Environmental Management Plan submitted by Maddingley Brown Coal did not address all of the matters set out in new EPA regulations governing tunnel-boring soil, Ms Giles wrote.
These regulations were quietly released by the EPA in the wake of the project's tunnelling scandal – a move that drew criticism of the regulator for trading off environmental protections to resolve a protracted commercial dispute.
Ms Giles said the EPA had now "formed the view that it was not open to it to be satisfied that the plan submitted by Maddingley Brown Coal Pty Ltd (MBC) included all the matters specified in regulation 6(2)(s) of the Environment Protection (Management of Tunnel Boring Machine Spoil) Regulations 2020.
"Consequently, the authority writes to inform your client that it will consent to the first order sought in the plaintiff’s Originating Motion Judicial Review, dated 29 October 2020. That is, the authority will consent to an order in the nature of certiorari to quash the decision."
This marks a major win for the school and community environment group, that have waged an energetic campaign to stop the toll road project's soil being sent to Maddingley, which is 800 metres from Bacchus Marsh Grammar and the Parwan Creek, which runs through the landfill site.
Moorabool Environment Group president Jodie Valpied said the organisation was pleased with the outcome and was now urging Planning Minister Richard Wynne to withdraw his planning approval to send the project's soil to Maddingley, which was "substantially based on the approval decision of the EPA".
"The minister brushed off human health and environmental concerns by referring to the approval decision of the EPA," she said.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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