A public meeting is being held this afternoon on the shores of Lake Macquarie, near two major power stations, to highlight the issue of coal ash dams, and to intensify calls for greater reuse of the material.
The meeting is being organised by the Hunter Community Environment Centre, which has published two studies in recent years about the environmental impact of coal ash on Lake Macquarie.
The ash is produced when coal is burned as part of the electricity generation process. According to the coordinator of the Hunter Community Environment Centre, Jo Lynch, the dams for the Eraring and Vales Point power stations hold about 101 million tonnes of coal ash, and that amount is growing.
"I think the community is frustrated that so much harmful waste has been allowed to accumulate," Ms Lynch said. "The public meeting is a demonstration of the community concern about the lack of action from the state government on coal ash waste contamination to date."
A capacity audience of 120 people is expected to be at the meeting at the Point Wolstoncroft Sport and Recreation Centre, with the event being live streamed as well. The meeting is being chaired by state Member for Lake Macquarie Greg Piper, and there will be a string of speakers looking at the issue from environmental and economic perspectives, as well as the possible business opportunities, and the need for more government support, in reusing coal ash.
Greg Piper said the issue of coal ash should have been an obvious problem to successive governments, that it had not been effectively addressed, "and it's time for us to draw a line in the sand on that".
He said the 2019 closure of the Myuna Bay Sport and Recreation Centre because of the risk posed by the nearby Eraring power station's coal ash dam in the event of an earthquake and heavy rainfall had been a "wake-up" call to many about the presence of the material close to the lake. Greg Piper argued the coal ash should not be left for future generations to deal with.
"I don't think we should be allowed to walk away from addressing this issue right now," Mr Piper said.
"Now that it's in our face and we know about this material, we can't just ignore it."
Jo Lynch said those at the meeting would be presented with a declaration to support, and it would also be available online.
That public declaration called on NSW power station operators and the state Government to "immediately enact plans and policies to enable the comprehensive remediation of ecosystems impacted by coal ash waste pollution, including the removal and safe reuse of all waste in coal ash dumps in Lake Macquarie, the Central Coast, Singleton, Muswellbrook and Lithgow".
Ms Lynch said there was a growing realisation that coal ash reuse was commercially viable, with possible application in areas such as road-building and construction, so what was a "burden could turn into a benefit" for the environment and communities.
Wangi Wangi resident and member of the Lake Macquarie-Central Coast Coal Ash Alliance, Bruce Derkenne, is one of the speakers at the meeting.
He said the meeting was timely, with the report of a state parliament inquiry into the costs of remediating coal ash sites as well as a NSW government examination of reusing the material as part of a waste strategy both expected in March.
On this issue: Report claimsCoal ash dumps a 'ticking time bomb'
"The whole discussion is moving forward, looking at positive outcomes for the future around reuse," Mr Derkenne said.
"There are opportunities for employment in the remediation and reuse of coal ash dams."
Jo Lynch said the NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean had been invited to the meeting but had "politely declined". She said the operators of the Vales Point and Eraring power stations had also been invited but declined.
A spokesperson for Origin Energy, which operates the Eraring facility, said the company supported local community groups' calls for "the removal of regulatory impediments to environmentally responsible ash recycling".
"We will continue to work hard to further increase ash recycling rates by investing in new technologies, exploring new markets and undertaking our own advocacy efforts," the spokesperson said in a written statement.
In its 2020 sustainability report, Origin said Eraring's coal ash resuse rate was at 39 per cent, up from 35 per cent the previous year.
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