Battle lines drawn in toxic soil fight

Lisa Markovic

By Esther Lauaki

Toxic waste is not welcome in Wyndham.

That’s the message that furious residents want to deliver loud and clear when they take to the streets next Tuesday to protest a government proposal to dump contaminated soil from the Westgate Tunnel at a Wyndham Vale stabling yard.

A tractor convoy will lead protesters down Watton Street in a bid to derail the proposal to use the stabling yard to temporarily dump some of the Transurban project’s PFAS soil.

“We want to let the state government know that if they pursue this, we will not allow their trucks to enter,” community organiser Lisa Heinrichs said.

Hundreds of residents have signed a petition against storing the toxic soil anywhere in Wyndham and a human barricade of the Hobbs Road rail yard is also planned.

More than 300 residents attended a community meeting last Wednesday to map out a course of action. Werribee MP Tim Pallas was booed by community members when he unexpectedly showed up at the meeting.

He maintains that the Wyndham Vale site will only be a “back-up” solution.

But Federal Lalor MP Joanne Ryan broke Labor party ranks last week and opposed the Transurban proposal saying she was not satisfied with the planning. Ms Heinrichs said one of the first calls to action will be a local rally in a bid to give the government “an opportunity to back down”.

“There has been no community consultation thus far … this is a government-owned site that does not need local council approval,” she said.

“We have great cause for concern that we will be unaware of any movement of soil being dumped on site. “We believe that of utmost importance would be to organise a barricade of the site.

“We can’t have any of it rumbling through our suburban streets.

“Ballan Road is the only road to this site … these trucks would have to travel through Werribee, Wyndham Vale and Manor Lakes past our homes, schools and our childcare centres.”

The state-owned 82-hectare site, which backs onto the heritage-protected Werribee River, is just 70 metres from houses and abuts land for planned housing developments and four schools.

Mr Pallas told the meeting the Wyndham Vale site was only a temporary facility.

“There are a range of sites being considered for the ongoing storage of soil – none in the electorate of Werribee – but the Wyndham Battle lines drawn Vale stabling site may be used as a temporary facility in rare instances,” Mr Pallas said.

“This would be entirely safe, and would only be temporary for a number of days until the soil is moved to where it needs to go.”

Ms Ryan said: “Following discussions [with residents], as well as a long history as a community activist, grassroots campaigner and the federal representative, I have decided not to support Transurban’s toxic soil plan for the community I have called home for my entire life.

“I am not satisfied that we are hearing talk of plans for extenuating circumstances when there is no plan detailing the final disposal or treatment facility.

“I am not confident the back-up plan being discussed will have the safety measures in place to protect people and … the environment.

“Transurban and their construction partners need to come to the table, listen to our community’s wishes.”

The community fight comes more than 20 years after thousands of Wyndham residents led a three-year campaign which resulted in the state government scrapping plans for a toxic dump and waste management precinct.

The rally is at Station Street, Werribee from 6.30pm.