A case of damned if you do ?

The Hornsby Shire Council has announced plans to fill the disused Hornsby Quarry with virgin excavated natural material and convert it to operational land. However, residents are concerned that the intensity of the work required to return the quarry to its natural state will be too disruptive and prohibitive (estimated at $55 million, although the Council insists the refill will pay for itself). They assert the refill will involve a truckload of fill every five minutes for 40 hours per week over 20 years! They are also deeply unhappy about the possible commercial development of the remediated land.

Another story last month that grabbed my attention was protests by Half Moon Bay residents, near Black Rock in Victoria, which halted a sand renourishment program undertaken on the local beach by the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE). DSE was extending the beach by 10 metres with 13,500 tonnes of imported sand from a Gippsland quarry as part of an $8 million Victorian Government program to prevent erosion on Port Phillip Bay?s beaches. This ought to have been a meritorious initiative at a time when shorelines are receding and sand reserves are at a premium. Yet Black Rock residents complained that DSE was ?ruining a golden beach with red dirt? and ?glorified road base?!

These examples signal a worrying new trend. Is NIMBYism at a stage now that borders on sheer bloody-mindedness? It shows us that while reclamation is a positive activity, communities do not always receive it that way. So how does the average quarry operator hope to handle complaints in its day to day operations from recalcitrant neighbours, let alone reclamation efforts that may in future also be resented?

It is worthwhile thinking back to futurist Wendy Sarkissian?s presentation at last year?s CMIC conference. As someone who advises parties on both sides of the ?fence?, Dr Sarkissian advised that the construction materials industry could benefit from following the foundations of community engagement ? or EATING (education, action/activism, trust, inclusion, nourishment and governance). She recommended the industry dedicate more time to EATING, including understanding a community?s politics, culture, climate and business ethic. She cautioned against trying to rush through ideas and encouraged careful spending of time and money on better knowing communities, as well as being meticulous in reporting methods. Perhaps the reason problems have arisen in Hornsby and Half Moon Bay is that the local authorities concluded they did not have to consult about the impact of their activities; they thought they were already performing a community service. If so, they were terribly wrong.

I asked Dr Sarkissian how a small quarry operation, which isn?t blessed with finances, resources or personnel, could proactively engage with its neighbours ? and confront their hostility. She replied that a small quarry operator ?can benefit from paying attention to small, significant matters, making its senior people accessible to the community, being honest in communications, presenting material in plain words and drawings, allowing time for community members to respond to concepts, treating people respectfully, and fitting in with how the community does business?. She added that proponents should always ?keep their gloves on?, no matter how unreasonable a community is. ?Open hostility is part of the engagement process. Proponents need to maintain decorum, even when people are being hostile and rude, to keep on listening and to keep communication channels open.?

At the end of the day, you cannot please everyone. It is better to try the right things and be damned if you do ? than damned if you don?t! Perhaps future generations will recognise that as unpopular as your course of action was at the time, it was done with the community?s best interests in mind and they have reaped the long term benefits.


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