Ombudsman calls on EPA to engage community

by John J. Williams

The Victorian Ombudsman has censored the Victorian Environment Protection Authority (EPA) for lacking consultation with the community.

Unveiling her report on EPA’s decision-making process for approving the movement of spoil from the West Gate Tunnel Project following the discovery of the toxic chemical PFAS in groundwater samples in June 2019, the Ombudsman, Deborah Glass, described PFAS as a class of poisonous chemicals described as ‘forever chemicals’ around the world.

She said it was so-called because it coulcould build up in the environment and the human body.Ombudsman calls on EPA to engage community

“While the EPA complied with its legislation, the communication of decisions fell far short of the community’s reasonable expectations,” said Ms. Glass.

“It was unreasonable to provide the appropriate information and opportunities for communities to participate in site approval decisions to receive the loot for the project.”

She said the EPA’s lack of meaningful engagement caused unnecessary social, psychological, and financial stress for the affected communities.

Ms. Glass found that EPA was under pressure to get the project back on track and helped the Department of the Environment, Land, Water, and Planning develop tailored regulations to allow potential sites to receive the grout.

“It is vital that the EPA is not only independent but is also considered independent to maintain public confidence in the objectivity of its decisions,” the Ombudsman said.

“The EPA assessed that the hazard was likely to be low, but took a prudent approach to manage the spoil, requiring all landfill operators to safely contain PFAS at ten times the amount likely to be present.”

She said the EPA’s decisions were compatible with the right to life, and the child’s rights, but the Authority failed to convince the community.

Ms. Glass praised the EPA’s actions for restoring community confidence. She said the Authority had been testing the excavated soil since March and had published the results on its website since April.

“In addition to publishing the test results, the EPA has begun a series of monthly community information sessions near the Bulla site, which is already removing waste,” she said.

EPA Chief Executive Lee Miezis welcomed the Ombudsman’s report and accepted all four recommendations.

“We recognize that shortcomings in our approach to engagement have led to problems,” said Mr. Miezis.

“We’re sorry about that.”

He said the EPA would use the Ombudsman’s report and recommendations to ensure that improvements made to the Authority continue.

The Ombudsman’s 84-page inquiry into decisions by the Environmental Protection Authority on the waste disposal of the West Gate Tunnel Project can be found at this PS News link.

Related Posts