A lot has happened over the past 18 months and we would like to share it with you. Not only will you be surprised by the revelations, but you will see the extent of the EPA’s continuing negligence and misdirection in this matter.
In this time we have turned full circle.
Premier’s Submission Version 1 February 2016
In February 2016, following the delivery of a 163 page Submission to the then NSW Premier, the Hon Mike Baird, the NSW EPA went into damage control. It had obviously become apparent to them that they were faced with a serious challenge. The Submission alleged that both NSW EPA and the former Gosford City Council (now amalgamated with the former Wyong Shire Council into Central Coast Council), had failed to meet their statutory obligations to the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 and the Environmental Planning & Assessment Act 1979, respectively.
Together, their responsibility for the environmental and public health catastrophe that is Mangrove Mountain Landfill, was undeniable. MDA requested a Commission of Inquiry to uncover the facts and to hold those responsible accountable.
The matter was referred to the Minister for the Environment, who sought advice from the EPA.
The Minister subsequently determined that an Inquiry was not necessary, but in so doing justified this decision with reasons that bore no relation to the grounds submitted.
Immediately following the delivery of the Submission to the Premier, the head of the EPA Waste & Resource Recovery Section sought an interview with Central Coast ABC radio, which was granted and subsequently broadcast over two mornings. In it, the EPA acknowledged that they had lost the trust of the Community and wished to regain that trust.
Since then the EPA and MDA, representing the Community, have had several meetings. Out of those meetings the EPA commissioned an independent environmental review of the management plans for the proposed expansion of the site (On 26 August, 2014, the Land and Environment Court Orders approved a further 1,317,503 m3 of new waste, while at the same time, reviewing the history of the existing waste mound. MDA was permitted to contribute to the preparation of the Terms of Reference and in the selection of the Consultant.
In particular, MDA was concerned about the environmental safety of the existing non-compliant waste mound. The one that Gosford Council had failed to monitor compliance with development consent DA23042/1998. The consent that they themselves had breached by transferring over twice the approved amount of waste from their own waste management facilities at Kincumber and Woy Woy to Mangrove Mountain.
A Report on the IER was submitted by the Consultant to the EPA in May 2017. It is available to the public on the EPA website at :
Some Disturbing Facts No.1:
In releasing this Report to the public, the EPA erroneously announced that it had found “no evidence the landfill is affecting ground or surface water quality.” This, they claimed, confirmed their own water quality testing in surrounding creeks along with groundwater monitoring.
What the report said was that “the monitoring data does not appear to show any evidence of impact from the landfill“, implying that the data was insufficient to draw a firm conclusion. In fact, the ground water data was manifestly unsatisfactory, insufficient and was subject to manipulation by the landfill operator’s consultant, and no surface water data was ever made available to the review consultant. The Report consultant has since confirmed that he received no surface water data for review. The real issue is the risk posed by the landfill. This is a function of the absorption of surface water into the mound and the escape of leachate out of the bottom of the mound into the groundwater reserves and into the creek system, and that remains!
Next, the EPA has agreed to commission a Risk Assessment of the operational plans and the stability of the existing waste mound. Concerns exist over the mound, which was for many years comprised of uncompacted waste with no daily cover as required. As waste decomposes the mound may subside into the creek system in the Jilliby Conservation Reserve. This is the catchment for the Central Coast drinking water supply.
Some Disturbing Facts No.2:
Towards the end of 2016, MDA received legal advice that the Land & Environment Court Orders could not be implemented.
This was communicated to the EPA and Central Coast Council. In support of this, the Environmental Defenders Office, acting for MDA, also wrote to both parties.
Replies were received from both. Council acknowledged that further modification of the Land and Environment Court Orders and/or the Development Consent would be required before the landfill can recommence operations. They then said that this was a matter for the site operator to address with Council and the Court. That Council had written to the site operator advising of this requirement, however, Council cannot compel the site operator about how the site operator achieves that.
MDA is astounded at this statement. It is a fact that the existing waste mound is unable to prevent leachate from escaping into the groundwater aquifer. This is a pollution event and by not addressing this issue MDA believes Council is failing to uphold Section 5 of the EPA Act. This section of the Act places the responsibility upon Council to properly manage and conserve the water supply catchment to promote the social and economic welfare of residents of the Central Coast for a better environment. Accepting that between 2.8 million to 3.5 million litres of leachate annually is escaping into the environment is not upholding section 5 of the EPA Act.
Further MDA understands that Part 6 of the EPA Act deals with implementation and enforcement. MDA is aware that under section 121B of the EPA Act the CCC has the power to issue a range of orders, including an order not to conduct, or to cease conducting, an activity where the activity constitutes or is likely to constitute a threat to public health. The release of between 2.8 million to 3.5 million litres of leachate annually into the environment would constitute a threat to public health.
Premier’s Submission Version 2 August 2017
Armed with additional new information obtained through GIPA, MDA has substantially revised the Submission to the Premier. This was delivered electronically on Friday 4 August 2017.
In submitting the Revised Submission entitled Documentary Evidence of the Statutory Failures of both the Environment Protection Authority and the former Gosford City Council’s Management of the Remodelling of Mangrove Mountain Memorial Golf Course to the Premier, MDA requested that the Department of the Environment and all its Authorities and Agencies be recused from any involvement, because of the obvious conflict of interest.
Again, MDA is seeking a Commission of Inquiry.
Concurrent with this, there is a Parliamentary Inquiry into the waste industry underway. MDA has made a submission to it.
Link is attached:
It claims that while the NSW Government is committing in excess of $800 million into the Waste Less, Recycle More initiative over nine years, the underlying regulatory process is failing and cites Mangrove Mountain Landfill as an example.
Evidence of EPA’s Continued Failings
Over the past 12 months information has been obtained from the EPA through GIPA. When confronted by MDA the EPA hides behind the POEO Act as to why they can’t do this or can’t do that. They tell us that they are proactive in testing free standing water from the site and from the surrounding creek system. They tell us that they are on the job, regularly conducting site inspections to ensure that the operator is complying with the terms of its environment protection licence (EPL 11395).
You could be excused for thinking that this professional organisation is making sure that the licensee at Mangrove Mountain Landfill is being properly regulated and that warnings and punishments are being issued for any infractions.
Nothing could be further from the truth. A reading of the various reports has uncovered a culture of sloppiness and negligence, neither endearing, nor reassuring to the community.
MDA received a total of 44 EPA inspection reports over the period October 2001 to August 2016, but none since then, although we know there have been several EPA inspections in the past 12 months.
In all of them, MDA noted numerous matters of concern, licence non-compliances, non follow ups, but no penalties.
Through the period of the LEC case 2012 – 2014 there were only two inspections in each of 2013 and 2014. In the years 2013 to 2015 there were gaps of 12 months between the last inspection in the previous year and the next inspection in the following year for 2013 – 2014 and 2014 – 2015, respectively.
Water Monitoring Data
These are in the public domain as part of the annual returns provided by the operator to the EPA. MDA has obtained annual monitoring data for the period of operation. In it MDA noted numerous inconsistencies and what appeared to be levels of arsenic and hexavalent chromium, by-products of treated timber that is specifically prohibited in the development consent, above the Australian Drinking Water Standards.
EPA explained this as certain figures preceded by <, refer to limits of detection, not less than, as the rest of us know it to mean. There are figures for arsenic of <1.0mg/L, 100x the maximum concentration recommended in Australian drinking water, so the EPA is accepting data manifestly incapable of advising on the safety of the water in our water supply catchment.
The EPA noted that they would ask the operator to use a more sensitive test (method) for arsenic in the future.
In other instances in the data, the EPA explained them as transcription errors. These included mixing units between mg/L and µg/L. All detectable measurements should have been in mg/L. Ther difference is only 1000 fold, and this also was explained as a transcription error.
So does the EPA ever bother to read the annual returns submitted by licence holders or do they tick a box to say, received? Annual monitoring data from Mangrove Mountain Landfill is meant to provide the EPA with reassurance that the groundwater is uncontaminated and poses no RISK to either the environment or to the health of residents. In this case it does neither.