A legal hearing has been told of a long list of alleged planning permit breaches on two adjoining properties operated by Maddingley Brown Coal.

Moorabool Council Major Developments Coordinator Vanessa Osborn told Monday’s hearing at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal that in March 2020 she saw a large “unexplained” mound of earth in an area not stated in a planning permit for a landfill.

The witness said this was confirmed in aerial photos of the Tilleys Rd site on March 16 last year and in photos taken from the ground by Council staff showing large numbers of trucks, two days before she went to the landfill in person.

Ms Osborn told the online hearing she believed it was connected to works on the West Gate Tunnel project.

She also told VCAT that over the space of more than a year she had been in and around the Maddingley landfill and photographed several alleged breaches of a 2011 planning permit including:

** Mystery mounds appearing in the south west section of the site,

** Large amounts of dust flying beyond the property,

** Heavy trucks entering with uncovered loads and entering before 6am,

** Flooding of litter-bearing landfill “effluent” water into the nearby Parwan Creek,

** Out-of-control weeds,

** Areas where promised rabbit-proof fences were not erected,

** Areas where landscaping and treeplanting never occurred,

** Dirt and other material that had fallen from the uncleaned wheels of heavy trucks.

Ms Osborn said that after months of unsuccessful negotiations, Moorabool issued a formal warning to MBC (also formerly known as Twenty-fourth Klingon) on 3 April 2020.

“Different matters arose but we were still trying to work together to find the best way forward,” she told the Zoom session.

“Then over time I received emails along the lines of dust and other issues being a matter for the EPA, implying it was not a matter for Council. 

“I reminded them it was part of their planning permit.

“We weren’t getting anywhere.”

Ms Osborn said MBC’s legal team responded by saying they had not been supplied with enough information.

“We didn’t know what was happening on the site at that stage,” she said.

“I had done a site visit and it was clear that significant amounts of site works were being carried out in the area that is now labelled the spoil containment cell.

“It was kicking up a lot of dust.

“We didn’t know what it was – but given the size and shape when I did the site visit, we thought it could be work for the West Gate Tunnel project.”

“In a letter (from MBC) we were advised that the company would set up a hotline and email address and that’s where complaints were to be sent through to.

“They may have set up a phone number by now, but we don’t have a copy of the MBC complaints register.”

Aerial photo taken 12 Dec 2020. Illustrative purposes only (this image was not presented to VCAT).

Ms Osborn told the hearing she took more photos on March 26 and still did not know what the major works within the site were for.

More photos were shown to the hearing from March 31 showing areas that were supposed to contain a line of trees but had never been landscaped.

She also displayed photos from March 18 of paper, plastic and other rubbish in a section of the Parwan Creek, which was within the boundaries of the site.

Barrister Louise Hicks, acting on behalf of Moorabool Council, said the 11 Tilleys Rd site was recognized as an important waste hub, but the matters being taken to VCAT related to good housekeeping”.

“What is sought is that the operations at those sites bring themselves into compliance with the planning permits,” she said.

“It’s been ages since the enforcement proceedings were issued in May last year. A lot has happened since (then) – some of them good things. There are steps that the respondents have taken.

“(But) there have also been ongoing problems.”

The hearing was shown the conditions for the planning permit which was first taken to Moorabool Council in 2011. It included requirements for landscaping, vegetation maintenance, the retention of large remnant trees and a maximum landfill height.

Ms Hicks said they were concerned about works which had since taken place outside the endorsed plan area.

The planning conditions also required the landfill to operate from 6am Monday-to-Saturday and 7am Sunday, but Ms Hicks said locals had concerns about the arrival of some trucks well before that time.

She said the conditions also required that each truckload was covered – and that East Maddingley Rd was to be avoided as a truck route in favour of Tilleys Rd.

Ms Hicks also told VCAT the work taking place next door at 181 Cummings Rd – including the Star Dam site – was also in breach of the planning permit, with no sediment control in place and vehicles failing to clean their wheels before entering public roads.

She also said the site had noxious weeds and there had been excessive dumping of clean fill outside of designated areas outlined in the planning permit.

The hearing was also shown a letter from Moorabool Chief Executive Derek Madden to MBC’s legal team, saying that enforcement proceedings were ready to be filed.

“The majority of the matters raised in our most recent correspondence with your client and with you and in this letter are matters which Council has drawn to your client’s attention repeatedly and over many many months,” Mr Madden said in his letter.

Ms Osborn said that from May 2020, Council began getting major complaints about trucks on East Maddingley Rd and traffic counters were installed at several points along nearby roads.

She said 88 heavy trucks a day were recorded on East Maddingley Road, south of Bacchus Marsh Grammar so the equipment could not confuse them with school buses.

“I’m still not exactly sure what those trucks were for,” she said.

“There were other complaints as well – dust, dirt on the roads, trucks and operating hours.”

Ms Osborn said photos taken on 14 January 2021 showed there were no fences protecting the site from rabbits or kangaroos and there was also no evidence of any seeding or landscaping.

She said MBC had told her it was too difficult to get a soil-ripping machine into the corner or Cummings and Bacchus Marsh-Geelong roads.

“If you can’t get a ripping machine into these areas, you can hand plant,” she said.

Ms Osborn also showed photos of a partly-built cyclone-wire style ‘litter fence’ which as of 6 March 2021 had not been completed.

She told the hearing Melbourne Water was contacted about permit conditions related to sediment control and any documents showing how MBC would do this.

MW said it had no records of any documents.

“They didn’t build any stormwater ponds, so they didn’t provide any plans to Melbourne Water,” she said.

“Significant rains in early January meant the entire site flooded badly and drainage water from the landfill flowed into the Parwan Creek.”

The hearing was told Melbourne Water inspected the site on 15 January 2021 and had seen the rise in stormwater, pollutants and sediment impacting Parwan Creek.

Ms Osborne said Melbourne Water confirmed there had been no stormwater management plan for the site, no evidence of pollution control and the banks of the creek lacked stability.

** The VCAT hearing continues today (Tuesday).

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Main image: Mounds of dirt photographed from Gullines Rd, 20 July 2020. Insert: VCAT Melbourne

Gabrielle Hodson
Author: Gabrielle Hodson

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