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Council road levy ‘disadvantages’ quarry

A Central Tablelands quarry operator believes a fee his business pays on a per tonne basis for road maintenance creates a competitive disadvantage and would welcome a council review of the matter.

Neil Hargraves, the managing director of Oberon Quarries, 180km west of Sydney, says his is one of the only remaining businesses in the region with haulage vehicles that pays contributions to the Oberon Council for ongoing maintenance of the local road network.

“It would be nice to be on an even playing field with everybody else,” he said. “The road levy was part of the original establishment approval of the quarry, which at the time was reasonable given it was one of largest operations in the area.

“As of now there are larger tonne movers on the local roads which are not subject to the levy. In my view this greatly disadvantages us.”

Oberon Quarries, located 5km south-east of Oberon, was established in 1994. Today it comprises 43 staff and 25 trucks to extract, process and supply basalt for use by councils, asphalt plants, cement plants, RMS projects and the general construction industry.

The business has provided material for projects including Mount Panorama, Mascot Airport, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, RMS roads and the Oberon community, helping lower the council’s operational costs.

In 2015, the quarry received NSW Department of Planning and Environment approval to extend the life of the quarry for another 30 years. Oberon Quarries can also extract up to 400,000 tonnes of hard rock per annum and has permission to expand the existing footprint by 1ha.

Millions contributed via levy
During the lifetime of its operations, Oberon Quarries’ development consent has required it to make Section 7.11 contributions on a per tonne basis to an Oberon Council restricted cash reserve.

The money assists with the ongoing maintenance and/or capital improvements on the 12km of road network used by the company’s heavy haulage vehicles and use of specific haulage roads.

Hargraves said the quarry was required to contribute about 48 cents per tonne to the council. Historically, this money has paid for a $1.5 million upgrade to Titania Road, which the quarry uses for transportation. As of 30 June this year, the council’s cash reserve – of which Oberon Quarries is a contributor – had a balance of almost $485,000.

The council recently agreed to transfer $450,000 of those funds for spray re-sealing purposes on roads used by Oberon Quarries’ trucks.

While he understands the reasons for paying contributions and is glad the council is using the money appropriately, Hargraves believes it is unfair that other similar businesses in the region are not contributing to the same level for road maintenance, leaving the council to foot the bill.

“Oberon has three big timber mills operating, and all that timber comes from surrounding areas and the Oberon district. The mills then process the timber and the products are hauled out again, and it’s all done via Oberon roads without a levy which are then solely council maintained. We are levied for a similar operation with less movements,” Hargraves said.

“Recently there has been a very big quarry just approved not far from here which is free from this council levy.”

Hargraves believes the fact his operation was a state government approval – as opposed to a council approval – was a contributing factor. He has made his thoughts clear to the council and “looks forward to discussing this [further]”.

“While the levy guarantees roads used by our operation are maintained, we feel council should be reviewing its application of this type of levy on other businesses in the area or removing it to even the playing field locally,” he said.

“Oberon Quarries has contributed millions via the levy, making our contribution per tonne of product provided to the market well in excess of any other operation in the area. Keep in mind, there are now larger tonnage-moving businesses using both our levied roads and non-levied roads, leaving council and our business to foot those bills.

“In all fairness we would gladly offer our full support to review the levy application and happily pay our share of the levy should it be fairly applied to others also,” he concluded. “We would also welcome removal of the levy altogether.”

Council responds
Oberon mayor Kathy Sajowitz said Oberon Quarries was not the only quarry operator in the area required to pay contributions related to the roads they use.

“These types of industries, such as quarries, have a significant impact on the local road network through heavy vehicle movements,” she said.

“Council has a contributions plan which outlines the requirements for developments of this nature and regulators take these requirements into account when considering applications of this nature.”

Sajowitz said the council had no role in collecting contributions on roads that are classified as regional or state roads. She acknowledged some industries were exempt.

“Council continues to lobby for forestry and other like industries to contribute to the impact they have on the local road network in situations where no development consent is required, for example forestry activity, which is classified as agricultural.”

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