Mud flies as WestConnex landfill stoush escalates

Stills from the WestConnex imagery showing the St Peters interchange. Photo: WestConnex Delivery AuthorityWhen the organisation set up to build the WestConnex motorway acquired a former landfill site in St Peters for a road interchange, it knew it would be taking on a substantial task of land remediation.

But it might not have known that it was also entering into long and difficult months of disputes with the former owner of the site – disputes now heading for the Land and Environment Court.

The NSW government has since accused the former owner of the site, Dial A Dump Industries, with not complying with clean-up notices at the area. The company alleges the government is over-stating the remediation concerns to reduce the valuation of the site.

Emails between the WestConnex Delivery Authority and Dial A Dump Industries, the former owner of the site, shed light on the breakdown in the relationship between the parties, which could have an impact on the overall cost of the motorway.

In June last year, the chief executive of the WestConnex Delivery Authority, Dennis Cliche, wrote to the owner of Dial A Dump, Ian Malouf, to hold out an olive branch.

“If you are in the country, I’d like to catch up for an unofficial chat about where things area heading and to see if we can’t save us all some legal fees,” wrote Mr Cliche, in emails obtained using freedom of information laws.

But Mr Malouf was “somewhere in Europe” with an uncertain return date, replied the company’s chief operating officer, Christopher Biggs.

“As you perhaps appreciate, though relations between this organisation and WDA started well they finished badly,” Mr Biggs wrote to Mr Cliche.

“Nevertheless I think there should be scope for a without prejudice private chat as you have indicated.” That chat, however, appears to have failed to amount to much.

Mr Biggs told Fairfax Media last week that WDA’s initial offer to buy the site was about one-quarter of what Dial A Dump valued it at. That offer was reduced to about 10 per cent of Dial A Dump’s valuation when remediation costs were added – remediation costs said by Mr Biggs to be inflated.

“We had … plans to redevelop the land,” said Mr Biggs. “It was to be a waste transfer station.”

Emails between the two parties show frosty negotiations concerning Dial A Dump’s ability to remove its property from the site after it was compulsorily acquired in late 2014.

When Dial a Dump wanted access to the site to recover its items, some of which needed Environmental Protection Agency approval to remove, it was not impressed with WDA’s licence conditions.

“I would remind you that DADI did not attempt in any way to create such barriers to access for WDA when DADI had possession of the site and allowed WDA access on multiple occasions for the purposes of drilling bores and inspecting the site generally,” the company’s solicitor, Alicia Marix-Evans, wrote to WestConnex contractor David Barone in early January late last year.

Dial A Dump eventually removed 12 skip bins of asbestos-contaminated material at its own cost, but only after months of negotiations and delays and the eventual approval of the Environment Protection Authority.

According to the Sydney Motorway Corporation, the agency that has inherited the project from the WestConnex Delivery Authority, the government has spent more than $50 million cleaning the site in the past year.

“This is an old landfill site where the previous owners had responsibilities to correctly manage and dispose of asbestos-containing stockpiles,” a spokeswoman said.

“In fact, in the four years before the property was acquired by WDA, the EPA issued numerous clean-up notices to the landfill site licensee in relation to stockpiles containing asbestos and these notices did not appear to have been complied with,” she said.

In a response for this story, Mr Biggs said that the previous owner implemented a succesful clean up of the site approved by the EPA in 2011.

“Sydney Motorway Corporation has to pay compensation on just terms for the land and for disruption of the business which employed over 100 people,” Mr Biggs said. “It is in Sydney Motor Corporation’s interests to try to minimise that compensation by misrepresenting the facts,” he said.

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