DUNGOG Shire Council has won a landmark case after a Land and Environment Court judge found the Martins Creek Quarry has been operating unlawfully in a judgment that is the longest in the court’s history.
Acting Justic Simon Molesworth ordered quarry owner Daracon to pay the council’s legal costs after finding the quarry has operated for years outside an original consent that allowed State Rail to quarry material for railway ballast.
Justice Molesworth found the quarry had mined significantly beyond the 5 hectare footprint of an original 1991 approval as part of a “transformation” into a general quarry and asphalt manufacturing business that was unlawful. In the process the quarry has been responsible for a dramatic increase in the number of truck movements through small Dungog villages including Paterson that has had a significant negative impact on those villages.
Dungog Mayor Tracy Norman said the 380-page judgment validated the council’s decision to challenge the quarry in court despite the possibility that a loss, and associated legal costs expected to be in the millions of dollars, would have represented an existential threat to the small council.
“It is a good result. The decision validated the position council took on behalf of the local community and being awarded costs has meant that council’s finances have not been negatively impacted,” Ms Norman said.
“The judgment has been long awaited, particularly by residents of Paterson and surrounds who have been exposed daily to a large number of truck movements through their township that have led to noise complaints, safety concerns and reduced amenity.”
Justice Molesworth has given Daracon 14 days to provide an interim environmental management plan which will reduce quarry operations to original development consents and reduce the impact of quarrying on local villages. The company has three months to finalise a new state significant development application for the quarry that must take into account the concerns and views of Martins Creek and Paterson communities and include full environmental assessments.
A Daracon spokesperson said the company was reviewing the decision to understand the potential impact but it “appears disappointingly punitive”.
“Daracon has at all times acknowledged the difficulties for all parties resulting from the sometimes conflicting consents but has sought to operate in good faith,” the spokesperson said.
“Daracon, its employees, customers and the community have all struggled to make sense of uncertainty that has resulted from multiple legacy arrangements surrounding the Martins Creek Quarry’s operations. All of these pre-date Daracon’s operation of the quarry.”
The spokesperson said it was too early to consider the possibility of an appeal but the company was considering all options, including preparing a new development application to obtain a new consent.
“We remain committed to working with Dungog Council for constructive outcomes,” the spokesperson said.
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