Port deals a toxic blow

Not only is PoMC preparing to create a toxic dump in Port Phillip Bay, it is presiding over a toxic disaster on land. Josh Gordon, Age Reporter digs the dirty dirt on the Port.

Not only is PoMC preparing to create a toxic dump in Port Phillip Bay, it is presiding over a toxic disaster on land.

Josh Gordon's article below invites us to ponder why we should trust the Port Corporation when it claims to have Victoria’s best interests at heart in its plans to expand the Port and dredge the Bay.

Taxpayers to foot toxic clean-up bill

Josh Gordon
June 20, 2007

TAXPAYERS are facing a bill of up to $70 million to clean up contaminated land bought by the State Government even though it had been used to produce chemicals since the 1840s.

The Melbourne Port Corporation purchased a 10-hectare, "strategically important" industrial property at Yarraville next to the Maribyrnong River for $13.5 million in August 2001.

But an extraordinary report from the Victorian Auditor General reveals it will cost between $6 million and $70 million to rehabilitate the area, used to produce acid, fertiliser and chemicals for more than 150 years.

The land — one of the most contaminated pieces of real estate in Victoria — is now worth just $500,000.

In a damning assessment, the audit office found there had been no serious attempt to assess potential risks, with scant attention paid to due diligence. It said the Melbourne Ports Corporation had purchased the property despite having little understanding of the condition of the site.

The Environmental Protection Authority subsequently issued it with two clean-up notices — one in 2003 after the site was vacated, the other earlier this year — requiring it to prevent dangerous chemicals spilling into the river. The site is contaminated with arsenic, copper, lead, sulphur, sulphate and phosphorus.

"(Melbourne Port Corporation's) purchase of the Yarraville property will result in significant assessment, remediation and demolition costs, far exceeding the costs contemplated at the date of purchase," the report concluded.

The purchase was rubber stamped by Treasurer John Brumby, despite a warning from his own department that government policy was being ignored, including no assessment of the risks and no mandatory approval from the Government Land Monitor.

According to the report, Mr Brumby was also warned that the site was "contaminated and subject to to an EPA pollution abatement notice".

The findings follow revelations in The Age in 2005 that the Port of Melbourne had been allowing arsenic from the site to leach into the Maribyrnong river for four years.

The problem was discovered prior to the sale, but under the contract the authority "forever released" the former owner, fertiliser company Pivot, from any legal or financial obligation to clean up.

Treasurer John Brumby's office last night referred questions about the purchase of the land to Finance Minister Tim Holding.

Mr Holding's spokesman, Dan Ward, said the Department of Treasury and Finance's role in the purchase was particularly complex due to the history of the site.

"Both Port of Melbourne Corporation and DTF now have significant internal technical capability to guide staff in dealing with contaminated land," Mr Ward said.

In a written response, Port of Melbourne Corporation chief executive Stephen Bradford said the corporation was committed to resolving the environmental problems, although he quibbled over the term "contaminated land", saying "almost all industrial land … (can) be considered contaminated to some extent".


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