Clarence Council risks $4 million on hazardous waste dump

If you live in Clarence you may not have heard that your Council has recently provided $4 million of Council’s money (rate-payers’ money) for the construction of a hazardous waste facility (or C-cell) near Copping, in the Sorell municipality (‘Tender let for C-cell’, 31 August 2016). The C-cell, approved in 2012, is permitted to receive a higher level of hazardous waste than normal landfill sites, including, potentially, all types of non-liquid waste except nuclear waste. Construction has not yet commenced.

The proponent is a council-owned business called Southern Waste Solutions, coowned by Clarence, Sorell, Tasman and Kingborough councils. Why was such an important decision made in total secrecy? There was no prior consultation by Clarence Council regarding the decision to spend $4 million of rate-payer’s money (a 1.4 m gift and a $2.4 m loan). The decision was made in a closed meeting of Council, sometime in July or August 2016 (the date is unknown). A closed meeting means there were no members of the public present and no public record is made available regarding the decision or the discussion by councillors.

We don’t think there is any justification for this level of secrecy. What are the financial risks to Clarence Council? What else could the $4 million have been spent on to the benefit of the Clarence community? The rate-payers have not been told why Council made this decision and what the financial risks are. We can find no evidence that the C-cell can make a profit so the $1.4 million may be a gift rather than an investment.

We understand that the conditions of the loan are that the SWS will only need to start to repay it when, and if, contracts are signed with businesses that want to send waste to the C-cell. It is not known if interest will be charged. It could take many years for any money to be paid back, making the $2.4 million unavailable for the ratepayers of Clarence. Many community projects will not receive funding because of this decision of council. Did Clarence Mayor Doug Chipman attempt to avoid media attention? The Clarence Council made no public announcement about its decision.

The proponent, Southern Waste Solutions, issued a media release on 31 August 2016 which included a one sentence statement at the end, from the Clarence Mayor, saying that: “The development will be funded through a combination of some $2 m. funds from the state government, while CCC will invest a further $1.6 m. and provide $2.4 m. loan to the organisation.” The media release was prepared by a public relations company and clearly aimed to minimise the attention the council would receive. Are Clarence rate-payers subsidising this risky waste dump through a rate-increase? In June this year the Clarence Council increased rates across the municipality by 1.9% for the 2016-17 financial year.

The Council could have avoided such a high rate increase if it had not provided the $4 million for the C-cell. Why does Clarence Council want to risk its money when no private investor is willing to? Despite claims by the proponent since 2012 that they had customers interested in paying to send waste to the C-cell, they have no contracts with private businesses. Information provided by the Tasmanian Ombudsman to Federal Member for Denison Andrew Wilkie states that on 10 June 2016 an unnamed business revoked its contract to invest in the C-cell. It seems that Clarence Council, and the Clarence Mayor Doug Chipman in particular, has rescued this development when no business or other council would spend money on it.

We are continuing to investigate Doug Chipman’s involvement in this affair. Why has Clarence put $4 million into the C-cell when other councils have put nothing into it? If you live in Sorell municipality you probably know that this risky venture is proposed to be built near Copping, but you may be wondering why Clarence Council is so keen to fund the C-cell when the other owner-councils Sorell, Tasman and Kingborough have not put one dollar into it. We think it has a lot to do with Doug Chipman’s keenness on landfill as a waste solution. Is the Sorell municipality going to get a ‘cut-price C-cell’ and what are the implications of this? Southern Waste Solutions and Clarence Council have admitted that it is still $4 million short of the full amount that it requires for the C-cell but SWS intends starting construction soon. 

In addition to the $4 million provided by the Clarence Council the state government provided $2 million last year through the Regional Revival Fund. SWS say that $6 million is sufficient to construct the C-cell, but it has made numerous media comments that the complete cost is $10 million. The agenda papers for Clarence Council meeting of 5 September 2016 states that its ‘investment’ of $4 million is 40% of the capitol required – therefore confirming the total cost of $10 million. The additional $4 million is required for capping the C-cell after it is full and for ongoing monitoring and potentially remediation. This $4 million is expected to come from profits, which are highly unlikely. We think it is too risky to start the C-cell without knowing if you can safely cap it and monitor it.

What you can do:

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  • Raise concerns with your local Sorell or Clarence councillors
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We are preparing a petition to the local Government Minister, Peter Gutwein calling for an investigation into Clarence Council’s funding of the C-cell. Register to receive updates and we can send you a copy of the petition when it is ready.

Further information
Peter McGlone
Tasmanian Conservation Trust

Angela Marsh
Southern Beaches Conservation Society