Monday, 16 July 2018

Not everyone was impressed by NSW Roads and Maritime Services temporary asphalt batching plant "drop-in information session"

Meme contributed
The Pacific Highway upgrade between Woolgoolga and Ballina is being progressed by the Pacific Complete consortium composed of NSW Roads and Maritime Services (RMS), UK multinational Laing O'Rourke and Canadian multinational WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff.

On 11 July 2018 this consortium held a drop-in information session on the subject of the proposed temporary asphalt batching plant at Woombah, a small village in the Clarence River estuary.

This batching plant servicing the Pacific Highway upgrade for the next two and a half years will see up tp 600 heavy and light vehicle movements each day at the Pacific Highway turnoff to Woombah and Iluka - up to 500 heavy vehicle and 100 light vehicle.

Residents from Woombah and Iluka attended the information session.

It was a masterpiece of information sharing apparently.

 Here are selected quotes from one Woombah resident's notes taken at the time.

* "Drop in session by Pacific Complete = complete disaster."

* "The Pad being constructed out of existing 'stock pile and lay down' being prepared for the Asphalt plant did not require approval - Bronwyn Campbell, Communications Director"

* "It just made it the lead contender for the only three sites you investigated raising it above the 1 in 100 flood level?
"Don't know what you're getting at" -  Bronwyn Campbell, Communications Director" 

* "Safety Audit has been conducted for the Iluka turnoff" - Bronwyn Campbell, Communications Director 
By who?
"Don't know" - Bronwyn Campbell, Communications Director 
Can I get a copy?
"No - we do not give those out" - Bronwyn Campbell, Communications Director" 

* "The TRAFFIC INFO TABLE manned by Dave Allars and Ryan Leth were asked what traffic management were to be put in place for the construction of the Plant and the construction of the new Iluka Woombah intersection.
"Don't know" - Dave Allars"

Additional comment from a Woombah resident:

"Did you get to see Andrew Baker's response to briefing? Makes Gulaptis look smart."

“In his defense, he was lied to as well. Because they will force ALL TRAFFIC onto the new route - they told people was for southbound traffic only - the map clearly shows the old route (old Pac and Garrets will be closed) making the problem in fact - worse."

An email discussing the information session was also being sent out from Woombah:

“Pushing the residential/truck choke point from Iluka Road down to the new access road by 31 March 2019 is not a solution to the traffic safety problem. By closing off the Garrett's Lane Access to the Pacific Hwy, the exact same problem of congested traffic with the Plant will still exist into the foreseeable future. Given the Q1 2019 Map (attached) the dangers are increased with truck entry just meters from the New Pacific Hwy Entry. They will make the traffic problem even worse.

One Iluka resident had this to say about the information session:

"I see in the handout that they decided to slip in a concrete batching plant on the same site as well. Does that mean there will be even more trucks?"

Another Iluka resident had this to say about that same  information session:

“Unbelievably slick PR operation engaging up to 30 or even 50 of the staff from within the complex, mostly office and management type staff I think. All squeaky clean and friendly with first names on their jackets.

A few of the highway people were across the issues but there was a lot of “I don’t know" or "I’ll get back to you” or “come over here and meet so and so who might know”.

They claim the batching plant is world’s best practice with systems in place to capture fugitive dusts and emissions.

I asked repeatedly about trucks carrying bitumen into the asphalt plant, or out of the plant as asphalt  were considered a Hazmat incident if there was an accident involving either the bitumen tankers or the asphalt trucks, but couldn’t really get an answer. No one seemed to know.

Plenty of spin last night.”


Bitumin and asphalt are flammable and combustible solids which are Class 4 dangerous goods.

NSW Roads and Maritime Services, Work Health and Safety Procedures: Bitumin, 1 September 2017, excerpts:

Roads and Maritime Services managers must ensure that appropriate systems are in place to identify, assess and control workers’ exposure to bitumen. Additionally, managers must ensure that workers are provided with relevant information, training, instruction and supervision in the safe use, handling and emergency response requirements (for example bitumen burns cards) of bitumen products. Workers should be able to conduct their work without a risk to their health and safety. For their part, they need to take necessary precautions to prevent and effectively manage the potential hazards and risks of working with bitumen. Industry partners are required to meet work health and safety (WHS) legislative requirements and have in place appropriate safety management systems. Designers of Roads and Maritime infrastructure must eliminate or control (where elimination is not reasonably practicable) the possibility of injury or damage caused by work with bitumen during the construction, use, maintenance or demolition of infrastructure…

Work with bitumen refers to road construction and maintenance work involving:

* All aspects of ‘cold’ bitumen work (such as crack sealing or jointing and road maintenance using cold mix with emulsions applied at ambient temperature)

* ‘Hot’ bitumen products, which are those applied above ambient temperature. These include blending or heated bitumen binders, asphalt batch plant product, laying asphalt, stabilisation of granular materials with hot foamed bitumen, sprayed sealing with hot cutback or polymer modified bitumen or crack sealing with hot sealants

* Bitumen binders include cutback bitumen (with added solvents), bitumen emulsion (with chemically treated water), modified binders (including suitable storage with correct product signs and classification under Dangerous Goods) and oxidised bitumen…..

After identifying the hazards, risks and levels of risk for each risk, it is now necessary to identify and implement appropriate hazard controls. Where no single measure is sufficient, a number or combination of controls is usually required….

Ensuring emergency plans are developed for the specific worksite and emergency information panels are displayed on sides of vehicles carrying dangerous goods (HAZCHEM and UN Numbers), emergency contact numbers and Transport Management Centre (131700), where appropriate.


On Saturday 14 July 2018 the Woombah community held a meeting on the subject of the proposed temporary asphalt plant. This meeting was attended by Roads and Maritime Services Bob Higgins, some Pacific Complete staff and the Nationals MP for Clarence, Chris Gulaptis.

North Coast Voices has received a number of emails concerning this meeting and here are selected quotes:

* “Time after time – Pacific Complete were asked direct and specific questions that were uncomfortably left unanswered.”

* “Chris Gulaptis – when pressed several times “Would YOU like to like your family to live next door to an asphalt plant?” drew a pathetic “I do not know” to finally a capitulation.”

* “When asked about the toxic fumes Mr Gulaptis said ‘I don’t know until I know….but if its bad, if its toxic then of course it should be cut down, it should be closed down and it shouldn't be anywhere in fact, let alone on the corner of Iluka road but at the end of the day its got to go somewhere and we are going to look at the best site and the site that will least impact on our community’.”

* “Mr Bob Higgins, the representative from the RMS, who is in charge of delivering this project, was even more dismissive of community concerns regarding health, suggesting that things have improved over the years and “They have filters they have scrubbers so essentially it is steam which you see coming out.”  He further went on to question in relation to odour s from the plant “Is it harmful or is it inconvenient”  “Is it harmful?  I don’t believe this is the case.”  
I was appalled by that response. Steam does not have an odour! Bob Higgins has previously admitted on the ABC radio that Asphalt Plants do smell, they do have an odour. Breathing in  and smelling something means you are reacting to certain chemicals in the air. Those odours can be toxic and cause headache, nausea and other harmful health effects. 
Mr Higgins also stated that not only is the site to be used for stockpiling paving materials and then the asphalt batching plant but also a Foamed bitumen plant, which had not been disclosed to the community previously.  I find this also to be an additional concern."

* “It was brought to the attention of the meeting by a local residents that the Mororo Wetlands which lies on the western side of the highway is an area of significant environmental significant s with a number off endangered species of animals and pants as well as a koala presence.  From observation of the site it is clear that any run off from that site runs underneath the highway into Mororo Creek and Mororo Reserve. This was not addressed by anyone at the meeting."

* “Adam did talk about a new corridor being constructed under the highway for koalas to travel from one side of the highway to another however nothing about the current corridor which currently opens up onto the prepared site of the batch plant. He did not state the new corridor would be completed prior to proposed operation of the batch plant. Has anyone informed the Koalas?”

* “No answers were forthcoming from any speaker that addressed the dangers to the public, only that studies were currently underway. They had no plans in place to protect the safety of local road users.”

It appears that this meeting was at times quite testy with Gulaptis alternating between being quite defensive or argumentative, however it has resulted in a promise on the part of Roads and Maritime Services of a second extension to the formal submission period. With a date yet to be fixed.

Unfortunately what appears to have also been admitted is that because there are not one but two seperate plants that will be operating on the site, the number of construction vehicle movement is higher than previously disclosed.

For those interested, here is a link to the audio of this meeting:

At 43:11mins a Woombah resident living close to the proposed site with her husband who has Stage 4 lung cancer spoke of lack of available information, questioned air quality and any effect this may have on her husband's quality of life. 


Another concerned Woombah resident’s opinion of the 14 July community meeting:

“From the outset it was clear the community who had gathered in the park yesterday, wouldn't receive the answers they deserved to the questions they had asked.  Chris Gulpatis was keen to tell the crowd just how much money his government was spending.   I suspect we were meant to feel grateful for all the government is doing for us but isn't this their job? Chris explained he had had a briefing on the plant the other day and thought it all looked pretty good.  He qualified this with not being a resident of Woombah or Iluka, nor an engineer, he also wasn't familiar with the process.  Hey hold on Chris why didn't you make yourself familiar about this?  You knew you were coming to a meeting with your constituents who were concerned?....

The first resident to ask a question was about the traffic and the number of vehicles we could expect.  The documentation had these numbers as being different and residents were clearly confused.  They were told there would be around 300 vehicle movements on the days when the plant was working at peak but that there were other truck movements to expect and so the number was more like 500.  There was a quick sorry but that was the nature of the business. 

When asked about contingency plans for peak holiday periods like Christmas, was there a plan for managing this? We were told that up and down the highway there were severe guidelines in place with their contractors designed to manage their movements on the highway during holiday periods and that has been in place for many years.  So how come the pretty graph you have given us shows peak truck movements in January next year as the bitumen plant ramps up their production?  Aren't you contradicting yourself Bob?

Next we heard from a resident living in Banana Road with specialist interest in wildlife.  He asked about the large koala corridor that comes out at the access point of the proposed bitumen plant.  The response to this was rather amusing from Bob as he started he started to tell him about the koala corridor, the resident was quick to say I know about this too Bob.  He asked what happens here with this corridor where we have koalas using this corridor all the time and coming out at Mororo Creek Reserve.  He informed Bob the UNSW had been working in the area for the last four years and they had found endangered species including the golden headed python and sugar gliders.  His question was how do you address this?  Bob reminded us of his long experience and general experience of building roads on the highway and that he had come across this before.  He was asked where was this information for the public to consider when undertaking their consultation.  There was no reply to this question.

The next question was about the traffic flow asking about the high numbers of trucks in January - was this a mistake in the projections being put forward as it was a peak period for tourism in the area during this holiday period.  His answer to this questions was rather confusing and he just restated his earlier advice that there were strict guidelines in place for contractors……

The next resident summed it up eloquently, the community were concerned, they were worried the plant would affect their health.  Full stop.  Another resident who worked for WIRES said he was pretty pissed off as he had released a number of rescued animals into the area of the plant.  When asked about how odour would be contained on the site the team looked worried.  Bob took the question saying odour was an interesting one because it was all about smell.... yes Bob we know!  The question he suggested we needed to think about was - was it harmful to someone or was it an inconvenience to someone, he said he couldn't answer this one, the crowd suggested they could!

One of the residents closest to the plant had a couple of questions regarding due process.  She had bought there just two years ago and had done due diligence of all the searches possible.  She knew the road works were coming and was grateful for that.  The only thing that turned up in her searches was the compound across the road.  She asked why if you know there is bitumen required for the road why couldn't I find such information.  A year ago someone from the consortium had turned up at her property unannounced to say they were renting some land for raw materials as a depot or stockpile.  Moving on a year later they get a letter box drop saying feedback was being sought with a week to do this.  When attending the information session last Wednesday she asked where was the report about air quality?  She was told this wasn't available for two weeks.  She asked this because as one of her major concerns is about this as her husband is dying from Stage 4 Lung Cancer.  She couldn't understand how this information wasn't available within the timeframe of the consultation.  She appealed directly to Chris asking him "what can you do for my husband?  We bought here because of the zoning, because of how it protects wildlife, for the environment, we have no chance to sell our property.  A) because they don't have the energy, B) because they would lose money and my husband's dying days is going to be what no one here seems to be able to tell me what he will be breathing in, what he will smell and how its going to impact on his quality of life and his quality of death"….

Do the residents of Woombah feel they have been listened to?  I don't think so.  One woman expressed just that before the consultation was wound up. She was upset because she didn't feel like we had been listened to and most people in the audience felt the same way.

At the end there was a little concession – let’s extend the consultation.  That's all well and good but when are you going to hand over the information we need upon which to make our judgements?  When exactly? "

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