Drill & Blast

Council fined for breaching licence threshold

In August 2018, EPA officers visited the quarry after reports of excessive dust emissions and discovered a large quantity of material being excavated and stored at the quarry.

It is alleged the quarry operated in excess of its annual licensing threshold of 30,000 tonnes from 2016 to 2018, without holding the required Environment Protection Licence.

“The quarry extracted more than 30,000 tonnes of material over two consecutive financial years, including 34,000 tonnes in one year and 60,000 tonnes in another,” the EPA’s regional operations manager Lindsay Fulloon said. “For this level of activity, council should have applied for an Environment Protection Licence, which it hadn’t done.”

Tamworth Regional Council has now taken steps to cease its operations at the site to ensure it does not exceed the licensing threshold. It has applied for a licence. It also now has a reporting system in place to ensure similar breaches aren’t repeated.

“Since the breach was identified, we are now producing monthly tonnage reports from our quarries,” Murray Russell, Tamworth Regional Council’s manager of infrastructure and projects, told Quarry. “These reports can be reviewed against our road works program, in order to anticipate the total tonnage that is likely to be required from each site each year.

“If the projected tonnage from any one site is approaching the 30,000-tonne threshold, we are able to alter our work program in order to avoid another breach.

“This may include sourcing gravel from alternative pits, or altering our roadworks program in order to decrease the demand from that pit (ie stagger planned re-sheeting work in that area over more than one year).”

Increased gravel demand

According to the EPA, the council has co-operated with the investigation from the outset and has no prior history of offences. The EPA has also accepted the council’s defence that the breach was not a deliberate act.

Russell explained that the Tamworth City Council was initially unaware of the EPA’s licensing requirements.

“Council have traditionally operated many small-scale gravel extractions, typically between 2000 and 10,000 tonnes per annum, so our staff have not ever had an awareness of the 30,000-tonne threshold for requiring a Pollution Control Licence,” Russell told Quarry.

“Over the years, a number of our smaller roadside quarries have been abandoned, and our larger sites have been used more extensively. A recent works program focusing more heavily on one part of our road network has seen gravel demand increase at the Spains Lane Quarry, and resulted in Council inadvertently exceeding the 30,000-tonne threshold,” he said.

Russell said that one of the key lessons learnt from this experience (which other privately owned quarries can stock of) is that incremental changes over time can ultimately result in operations inadvertently exceeding a compliance threshold.

“You may not have an awareness of that [ie the compliance threshold], because each incremental change does not appear to be significantly different from the year before,” he told Quarry.

“You need to be aware of those compliance thresholds, and how they relate to your quarry operation at any point in time. By gathering appropriate information about your operation, timely decisions can be made to ensure compliance at all times.”


More reading:
Council billed for poor quality product
Mining company investigated for quarry extraction 
Quarry operator hit with almost $200,000 in fines 
Environmental breach penalties increase ten-fold 

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