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Environmental breach penalties increase ten-fold

Daracon Group subsidiary Buttai Gravel was fined a total of $3000 for environment protection licence breaches at its Martins Creek Quarry, located in Dungog, New South Wales. The two $1500 penalty notices that were issued last month related to inspections undertaken by the state’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA) on 17 July, 2014 and 12 August, 2014.

“At one of the inspections, the EPA observed significant erosion and sedimentation at a section of the site due to inadequate water diversion controls,” the EPA’s acting Hunter manager Mitchell Bennett explained. “At a further inspection, the EPA observed that sediment controls on the site had been inadequately maintained. In particular, the EPA observed a hole in a large sediment control fence allowing waters to flow under the fence without receiving adequate treatment.”

In addition to being issued penalty notices, the company was directed to improve erosion and sediment controls at the site.

Tougher penalties

The second Martins Creek Quarry inspection occurred just weeks before NSW enforced harsher penalties for the 10 “most serious” environmental offences on 29 August, 2014. “Serious” offences included pollution of water, illegal disposal of asbestos or hazardous waste, and operating without a licence.

“These changes better reflect the community’s expectations and shift the power back in favour of the independent regulator rather than the polluter,” NSW environment minister Rob Stokes said at the time.

“For too long the EPA has been operating under conditions that make it difficult to effectively regulate operators who continually do the wrong thing with penalties that are simply not significant enough to change poor behaviour.”

EPA CEO and chair Barry Buffier added, “The community has made it clear that they believe the penalties being issued to companies after an environmental incident are too low.”

A recent EPA statement indicated that offences such as those committed by Buttai Gravel last year would now attract fines of up to $15,000 under the new penalties, which were described as “the toughest in Australia”.

“Good sediment and erosion controls are important to ensure that the environment and community are protected,” the statement read. “If sediment-laden waters leave a site and enter watercourses, this can have a major impact on aquatic organisms.”

Buttai Gravel is currently preparing an environmental impact statement as part of an application to expand its Martins Creek Quarry.

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