THE state government has allocated to Lake Macquarie less than five per cent of its $23.5 million budget for improving handling of contaminated NSW land, a sum labelled as “paltry” considering the difficulties faced by residents living on the land polluted by the Pasminco lead and zinc smelter.
Lake Macquarie City Council will receive $800,000 over four years to implement relevant recommendations the Lead Expert Working Group made in December 2016, on top of the work it has already started using in-house resources.
Boolaroo Action Group spokesman Jim Sullivan said the sum was “a pretty paltry amount considering the issues we’ve got to deal with”.
Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper said he had suggested the state government invest $40 million over four years towards the contaminated land issue across NSW and “would have expected a more substantial amount for Lake Macquarie”.
“It wasn’t a big pie to start with,” he said.
“I would like to see more, but it is a start. The bottom line is we don’t know what the demand is.”
A council spokesperson said the funds would be used in line with an agreement forged with the EPA.
“The focus of this work is to reduce the cost of development on land affected by legacy contamination, establish a role to engage with local residents, businesses, landowners and government agencies about managing legacy lead contamination, and establish a small grant fund for local landholders to understand their contamination status.”
The spokesperson said $100,000 per year would be allocated to the grant fund.
Detailed criteria for access will be determined in consultation with local residents, the EPA and Hunter New England Health.
“If landowners say ‘I don’t think my property is contaminated’ but it hasn’t been specifically cleared then it has to by default be considered as contaminated,” Mr Piper said.
“I think this will clear a lot of properties and provide peace of mind but also take that [cost] burden off.”
Mr Sullivan said he was concerned funds would be “burned up in administrative costs” and said a community representative should have had input into how the money is spent.
He said funds should also be used to assist landowners to transport contaminated soil for disposal, which he said should be allowed at Awaba.
Mr Piper said he supported managing waste within the local council area.
An EPA spokesperson said it was also working on implementing relevant recommendations.