A potential catastrophe? Mangrove Mountain Waste Landfill

A Mountain of Rubbish

This landfill site in Mangrove Mountain lies in a watercourse, and in the catchment for the Central Coast potable water supply. Runoff (leachate) from the landfill flows into the catchments of Hallards and Stringybark creeks. These run into Ourimbah Creek, where water is pumped by Wyong Shire Council into Mardi Dam for the Wyong town water supply. Water is also pumped from Mardi Dam into Mangrove Creek Dam for the Gosford town water supply.

The Mountain Districts Association (MDA) is concerned that both Gosford City Council (GCC) and the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) have failed to exercise their respective statutory responsibilities under the Environment Protection and Assessment Act (EPA Act) and Protection of the Environment Operations Act (POEO Act), regarding the Mangrove Mountain Landfill.

The issue is also gaining wider attention, with Sydney Morning Herald reporter Natalie O’Brien recently covering the issue in depth.

The Problem of Rubbish Disposal
The MDA accepts that modern society produces vast quantities of rubbish that must be disposed of. However no government, at any level, should condone or actively support dumping rubbish where there is a risk to the environment or a risk to health now or in the future. Unfortunately this is the case with the waste landfill at Mangrove Mountain.

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Submission to Premier calling for Commission of Inquiry
Landfill Goals of the MDA
Positive Outcomes if the Landfill licence is cancelled
History of the Mangrove Mountain Waste Landfill
Landfill Ownership and Operation
Approved Activities at Mangrove Mountain Landfill
Recent Developments
But the matter isn’t closed

Action by the Mountain Districts Association2.

The MDA is a relatively new community-based organisation. Following its 2014-15 successful opposition to coal seam gas exploration, in this rural area with its valuable ancient groundwater aquifers, it turned its attention to the odious waste landfill.

The search for facts has been a slow and methodical process. Others in this community have been involved before us, but so far nothing has changed. Some members of the community have publicised the issue, whilst others, such as the Community Environment Network’s (CEN) John Asquith, have made representations via the media and at a political level. To date the authorities have ignored these representations. This made the MDA determined to take a fact-based campaign to relevant authorities and political representatives.

During 2015 The MDA met with CEN, Gosford City Council and representatives of the EPA Waste Compliance Unit in Newcastle, to obtain a briefing and to state its concerns.

The MDA also met with representatives of the EPA Waste and Resource Recovery Unit together with GCC, for an additional discussion on the matters of concern. On separate occasions, it met with an adviser to the Minister for the Landfill Ownership and OperationEnvironment and a senior representative of the EPA, with local MPs David Harris, MP for Wyong, Kathy Smith, Member for Gosford, and with the Shadow Minister for the Environment.

Most recently it met on-site with Scot Macdonald, Parliamentary Secretary for the Central Coast.

Locally it met with members of the Community.


Submission to Premier calling for Commission of Inquiry
To attempt to bring this issue to a conclusion that might actually ‘meet community expectations’, the MDA has systematically analysed the statutory failings of both the EPA and GCC in this matter and presented these in a Submission to the Premier, in which it calls for a Commission of Inquiry. This was submitted on January 31, 2016 and MDA is awaiting a response.


Landfill Goals of the MDA
• To have the Environmental Protection Licence No 11395 (EPL 11395) regulating the activity of the Mangrove Mountain Waste Landfill cancelled, and the site closed down to any further landfill activity.
• To have the existing waste removed to a fully lined site with a long term management plan in place.
• To have the landfill site, including the golf course fully remediated.


Positive Outcomes if the Landfill licence is cancelled
• It will prevent an average of 55 truck movements/day for five days/week over the next 10 years from creating additional damage to local road surfaces and risk to the community.

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• It will prevent the further destruction of groundwater aquifers through the excavation of natural material for the Cells designed for the new waste, and for the exhumation of a 6m cap from the existing waste mound.

4. Note chemically treated timber in fill.

Note chemically treated timber in fill.

• It will prevent further risk of contamination to the water catchment through the importation of new waste.

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• It will eliminate the risk of groundwater and aquifer contamination from the landfill and protect the Central Coast water supply.


History of the Mangrove Mountain Waste Landfill
This thorny issue has had a long and complex history.

It started with a generous donation of money in 1966 to the Mangrove Mountain RSL Sub-branch by local man Raymond Taylor. The sub branch purchased 100 ac (40ha) of land in 1967, and construction of a golf course commenced soon afterwards. This land has become the centre of heated discussion and controversy in the community.

To understand the problems with the landfill in 2016 we first need to go back to the beginning.


Landfill Ownership and Operation
• In 1967 the local RSL sub branch purchased 40ha of land on Hallards Road
• Building of an 18 hole Golf Course began sometime in 1970.
• By 1972 the number of holes was reduced to 9 because of lack of space.
• On 3 June 1991 a folio for the whole 112ac (45.511ha) site, was created (Lot 584, DP809570). This was the title cited in the DA mentioned below.
• On 8 April 2008 this folio was cancelled and two new ones for the same area were created on the same day (Lots 581, 582, DP1123656).
• Lot 581 is currently privately owned and is 5.331ha on the other side of the access road off Hallards Rd into the Waste Landfill site.
• Lot 582 is 40.18ha comprising the waste landfill and the golf course.
• On 15 September 2014 the ownership of Lot 582 was transferred from RSL Custodians to Mangrove Properties (NSW) P/L for the sum of $750, 000.
• Mangrove Mountain Memorial Club owns the land on which the club is located and Mangrove Mountain Golf Club has a lease with options for use of the golf course until 2028.
• There are a number of shell companies associated with the landfill site that we are told are not legally associated. The following names have appeared in this context:
• Mangrove Properties (NSW) P/L, purchaser of the landfill site and golf course.
• Verde Terra P/L the licence holder of EPL 11395 which changed hands with the change of operator in about 2012.
• Central Mangrove Waste, a business name used since the first licence, as a trading name for the licence holder.
• Mangrove Mountain Landfill P/L, a subsidiary of Bingo Group.
• Damian Ryan, Director of Mangrove Mountain Landfill P/L, listed as part of Bingo Group, is also the signatory to annual monitoring reports from the Landfill site submitted to the EPA.


Approved Activities at Mangrove Mountain Landfill

In 1998 Gosford City Council (GCC) approved a development application (DA23042/1998) to “remodel Mangrove Mountain golf course by recontouring the north western section …by filling an existing valley with inert and solid waste materials and covering with material excavated from an existing spur on the site.”

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2005 GCC and EPA staff inspecting the scale of the landfill

DA23042/1998 said: “The operations of the waste facility and the remodelling of the Golf Course is to be carried out in accordance with the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prepared by T.G.T. Consulting Services Pty Ltd except where modified by any conditions of this consent, the abovementioned Landfill Environmental Management Plan (prepared by Perram and Partners as noted in paragraph 1 of the development consent) and the requirements of any relevant regulatory authority.”

Since then there have been two s96 amendments in March 2003 and May 2009.

The golf course remodelling project was meant to be completed within 10 years by 2008. It is now scheduled for 2026. There is huge profit in the waste disposal business and this has overridden the initial objectives of extending the golf course for the community.


Recent Developments
In 2014 a court case brought by GCC against the landfill operator Verde Terra produced a Court Order, which laid down conditions for future activities.

The Court Order ratified a Heads of Agreement, which was a private arrangement negotiated by GCC and the landfill operator, without any reference to the Community nor to the processes of due diligence. It was a substantial departure from the development consent DA 23042/1998.

Gosford City Council now seems to be of the opinion that this matter is closed and that the outcome has met community expectations…………

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But the matter isn’t closed

The site is substantially in breach of the development consent. It has assumed the proportions of a regional waste disposal facility rather than a golf course remodeling project, which was the original intention.7.

Environmental safeguards intended to prevent the escape of waste leachate and stormwater run-off are manifestly incapable of doing so.

This was spectacularly demonstrated in July 2015 when a sedimentary plume appeared in Ourimbah Creek some 12kms from the landfill.

In January 2016 a week of heavy rainfall resulted in substantial run-off of sediment laden stormwater into the catchments of Hallards Creek and Stringybark Creek.

Throughout all of this the EPA insists that no evidence has been brought to its attention that demonstrates shortcomings and illegalities at the site sufficient to warrant them taking action against the Operator. Their response to the July ‘uncontrolled discharge’ (their words) was slow, and not unexpectedly, analysed samples failed to demonstrate anything untoward in the creek system. Their ‘inspections’ of the landfill, to paraphrase, report all is well.

At the most recent meeting with EPA Waste and GCC, the EPA claimed that it was in discussions with the operator, of introducing and implementing the strongest environmental safeguards.

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Run-off water being sprayed over the mound in an attempt to encourage evaporation

However, the demonstrable failure of the site to manage both leachate and stormwater, thevisible evidence of some of the atrocious practices for disposing of and managing surface water/leachate and the lack of an impervious leachate membrane underneath the vast majority of the existing waste mound, fill MDA with a complete lack of confidence in anything the EPA might say or do and anything that is intended for the landfill site.

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Proposed holding cell for the exhumed waste from the top 6m of the existing waste mound with an estimated 20 million litres of sediment laden water suspected of being contaminated with leachate, January 2016.

As an example, one of the measures for the new EPL 11395, currently in preparation, is for new Cells to be excavated, a connecting gutter to drain leachate constructed down the centre of the cells and for the Cells to be lined by an approved method and with approved materials. However, the first of these new super cells, Cell W, presently contains an estimated 20 million litres of sediment laden water with suspected contaminants. How the Operator thinks this can be drained (to where?), dried out, further excavated and works completed, in its present condition and in the event of further extreme rainfall events during this period, is absolutely unfathomable.