By Michael Giles
ANOTHER article about Cr Jeremy Rich?
Maybe you’ve already heard enough.
But in the latest instalment from his family company, Ansevata Nominees Pty Ltd, they have demanded “the council must stop the flow of water” into the shire’s own retarding basin at Walkerville.
Ansevata, which operates the farm next door to the retarding basin, has an 80-year contract with the shire for the use of water in the dam for stock and irrigation purposes.
But they say they can’t use it, and haven’t been able to for a considerable length of time, because it is allegedly contaminated.
And they have now produced a report to say just that. But the expert opinion provided by Dr Darren Bennetts includes many caveats, among them that “insufficient documentation has been provided to confirm the efficacy of the sampling program”.
No new data on water quality or the likely source of any contamination has been provided in the report commissioned by Ansevata.
In a letter of demand to the shire last week, prepared by lawyers for Ansevata, Wisewould Mahony of Latrobe Street Melbourne, of which Cr Rich’s brother Adam Rich is a partner, they have claimed the shire is allowing the waters in the dam to become polluted by “causing water to flow into the dam” containing “a combination of treated septic effluent from the adjacent estate mixed with storm water” and it must be stopped.
The demand does not come without a threat.
“We are instructed to inform you that unless your client notifies us within 14 days of the date of this letter that it proposes to stop the flow of water into the dam, pending implementing remedial measures to ensure the water flowing into the dam is not polluted and is fit for irrigation and stock use, then our client will commence proceedings seeking both damages and an order restraining the continued flow of water into the dam.”
Ansevata uses as its evidence of pollution a report by Dr Bennetts of Peter Jay Ramsay & Associates dated May 1, 2018 together with attachments and a supplementary report dated May 21, 2018.
No fewer than nine attachments relating to the issue have been included in last week’s council minutes. See them in full on the shire’s website at www.southgippsland.vic.gov.au
Dr Bennetts concludes that “it cannot be confidently determined that the dam water is suitable for unencumbered irrigation of pasture and crops and watering of livestock. Therefore, it must be considered that the water is unsuitable until such time that management measures can be implemented to reduce risks to acceptable levels”.
Dr Bennetts also observes that dam water quality in Victoria is regulated by both the Water Act 1989 and the Environment Protection Act 1970. These Acts require that the uses of the water that it is intended to be used should not be compromised.
Dr Bennetts concludes that: In accordance with both the Water Act 1989 and the Environment Protection Act 1970, the water is considered to be polluted. Specifically, under the Water Act 1989, the water is considered to be potentially harmful to the health, welfare or safety of human beings and animals. Similarly, under the Environment Protection Act 1970, the water quality has been changed such that “it is reasonably expected to make those waters potentially harmful to the health, welfare, safety or property of human beings and animals”.
Dr Bennetts observes that the source of the polluted water is from “a combination of treated septic effluent from the adjacent estate mixed with storm water.”
Dr Bennetts is an Associate and Manager of the soil and groundwater team at Peter J Ramsay & Associates. He is appointed as an environmental auditor by EPA Victoria in the category of contaminated land. He holds a Bachelor of Environmental Science (Hons) and a PhD in hydrogeology, geochemistry and hydrology. He has over 10 years’ experience in soil, groundwater and soil gas investigations. This experience includes soil and groundwater contamination assessments, groundwater modelling, landfill gas assessment and management, water resource and wastewater management, and risk assessment.
His report is not unequivocal, however, concluding that it “cannot be confidently determined that the dam water is suitable” for stock or irrigation and that it can’t be used “until such time that management measures can be implemented”.
Because of the 14-day threat in the letter, the South Gippsland Shire Council voted unanimously last Wednesday to bring the matter on in Urgent Business.
Cr Rich declared a conflict of interest and left the council chamber.
The council ultimately voted to seek an extension of time from Ansevata until the end of June to make a response.
There was little discussion beyond a warning by Cr Andrew McEwen that the shire was at risk of costing itself $1.5 million in damages if it continued on its present course of not agreeing to Ansevata’s demands.
The report claims “the system would need to be upgraded to include a pre-treatment step to ensure that only acceptably treated septic tank effluent is released into the dam. Alternatively, septic tank effluent should be prevented from being placed into the dam and disposed of in an alternative manner (i.e. dispersion trench system).
It has not, however, been conclusively proved that the source of any alleged contamination is the Promontory Views Estate.
Ansevata Nominees has previously made application to the shire for an 88-lot residential subdivision adjacent to the estate, offering to resolve the alleged run-off problem by providing access to a sewerage plant proposed to be established as part of their development.