'Dust all over' Mudgee mayor's asbestos clean-up

January 02, 2014 at 11:48 AM

After the demolition, Des Kennedy, the mayor of the Mid-Western Regional Council, sold the land in March 2012 to community housing charity Housing Plus. When the charity sought development approval to build 20 affordable housing units, he joined those voting to grant approval.

But when the charity asked for a grant of $150,000, council records show the mayor declared an interest as the former owner of the land and absented himself from the vote.

The request for the grant towards the development was refused. When it emerged that contamination on the site was extensive, the council allowed the toxic waste to be buried at an authorised council tip at ratepayers' expense, waiving a $103,688 charge.

Housing Plus chief executive Karen Andrew said: ''What I can confirm is that we purchased the land from the mayor as a private individual. The site was heavily contaminated with asbestos and we asked the council to waive the tipping fee, which they did.''

Documents provided to the Environmental Protection Agency concerning the demolition process include a petition from seven neighbours who have claimed it was done without asbestos safety equipment, waste was buried in channels and they were concerned they may in the future contract asbestosis.

Terry Tattersall, who lives two doors away from the site, told Fairfax Media: ''They never told us the buildings were going to be pulled down and they didn't have any overalls on. There was dust all over the place.''

The council officers' report in February recommending approval of the development said some asbestos sheeting was observed in a preliminary contamination investigation by the charity and recommended as a condition of approval that the top 50 millimetres of the site be removed to a licensed waste facility.

In a letter to the council's general manager, Warwick Bennett, in July, Ms Andrew wrote: ''Housing Plus purchased the site in 2012, unaware of the contamination, and is now in the unfortunate situation of being left to remediate the site.''

She addressed the council that month and said they had paid $885,000 for the land, which was sold as ''usable development land but that was not the case''.

She said contamination that necessitated removal of 700 tonnes of soil was not declared in the contract and she was trying to obtain details relating to the demolition and burial of materials. WorkCover had also been informed, she said.

The following month the council, having previously refused the charity's application for a $150,000 grant because it had completed its 2013-14 budget and ''does not have the funds'', agreed to a $100,000 grant. Councillor Percy Thompson, himself a former mayor, said: ''The council has waived the tipping fees, which should have been paid by the previous owner. The mayor … should have to pay for it.''

Cr Thompson put forward a motion calling for the council to recover the tipping fee of $103,688 from the mayor but it was not accepted on the council agenda and was considered ''unlawful'' by the council's general manager.

Emails to Cr Kennedy went unanswered, as did requests to the council media contact for a response.

The EPA said any issues associated with misconduct should be directed to authorities such as the NSW Ombudsman or the Division of Local Government, Department of Premier and Cabinet.

By Tim Barlass
Sydney Morning Herald

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