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Victorian Ombudsman probes spoil sites for West Gate Tunnel Project

Spencer Fowler Steen

The Victorian Ombudsman has launched an investigation into the Environment Protection Authority’s (EPA) decision to approve sites to receive spoil from the West Gate Tunnel Project.

It follows community concern over where tonnes of spoil from the $6.7 billion project linking the West Gate Freeway in Yarraville and Citylink in Docklands will be located, as well as complaints made to the Ombudsman’s office about the project.

The EPA initially approved environment management plans for three sites to receive the spoil generated from tunnel boring machines.

But in December 2020, it revoked the decisions following challenges in the Supreme Court from community groups.

In early 2021, the EPA approved new environment management plans for the same three sites to receive spoil from the project. 

Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass said the probe would investigate the adequacy of the EPA’s decision-making.  

“I am concerned without the actions of the community groups, the deficiencies in the EPA’s decisions may not have been identified,” Ms Glass said. 

“The community deserves to know if correct processes were followed when it came to deciding where tonnes of spoil could be disposed of, especially given the proximity to homes.”

While making it clear that the investigation cannot stop the construction of the West Gate Tunnel, nor make binding orders about where the spoil should go, Ms Glass said she was aware of the “strength” of some community feeling in this matter.

West Gate Tunnel Project’s builders, John Holland CPB Joint Venture, selected the Hi-Quality Quarry site in Bulla in June this year to receive the spoil. 

The investigation will consider whether the EPA considered human rights identified in the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006, whether it considered principles set out in the Environment Protection Act 1970 and the EPA’s decision-making in approving spoil sites.

Ms Glass’s investigation is separate and unrelated to the Supreme Court action by a group of residents and a council in Melbourne’s west against the state government over plans to dump soil contaminated with potentially carcinogenic PFAS chemicals from the West Gate Tunnel.

EPA CEO Lee Miezis said the EPA was aware of the Victorian Ombudsman’s investigation into the approval processes for sites bidding to receive spoil from the project.

“EPA will co-operate with the investigation. The Ombudsman can expect the EPA’s full collaboration and we will share all necessary information,” Mr Miezis said.

“As this investigation is now under way, EPA has no further comments at this time.’’

The investigation is expected to be completed by the end of 2021. Ms Glass will then report to Parliament and the public on her findings. 

Ms Glass is seeking submissions from identified community groups.  

The investigation follows new rules released by the state government last year about how toxic soil is handled.

The new code allowed landfill operators to handle contaminated soil provided they have an “environmental management plan” that has been approved by the EPA •

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