Local, Opinion/Comment

Un-neighbourly behaviour? The waste management ‘plot thickens’ – Biomass v The CHCC

EXCLUSIVE

A confidential report given to Bellingen Shire Councillors by their General Manager, and obtained by Coffs Coast Outlook,  sheds much light on the recent arbitration decision in favour of Biomass over the Coffs Harbour City Council (CHCC) and the history behind this.

The story of the arbitration decision was first published here on August 19 last and highlights that the ultimate cost to CHCC ratepayers may potentially be as much as $31m.

By The Editor

The history (from the Bellingen Shire Council confidential report)

The confidential Bellingen Shire Report to Councillors referred to in this article

“In around 2006 Bellingen Shire Council (BSC) and Nambucca Valley (then Shire) Council (NVC) entered into contractual arrangements with Coffs Harbour City Council (CHCC) for the provision of mixed waste for processing. Coffs Harbour City Council in turn have a contractual arrangement for the provision and processing of mixed waste with Biomass Solutions Coffs Harbour Pty Ltd (Biomass). These arrangements are in addition to other contractual arrangements for processing of organics, and the collection and sorting of recyclable materials.

Mixed Waste Organic Output (MWOO) is the end product of a practice which aims to separate the organic waste in household red-lid bins from other waste. It was previously allowed to be applied as a soil amendment under strict controls. MWOO is produced at Alternative Waste Treatment (AWT) facilities, primarily to divert general household waste (red-lid bin) from landfill. The AWT for Coffs Coast Waste Services (CCWS) is located at Englands Road Coffs Harbour.

Was the CHCC told its waste facilty at Englands Road would be full in 2020 ten years ago?. Photo Trevor Veale / Coffs Coast Advocate

In October 2018 the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) revoked the general and specific Resource Recovery Orders and Resource Recovery Exemptions for the application of MWOO to land due to risks associated with chemical and physical contaminants. It also introduced phase one of a Transition Package for the alternative waste treatment industry to ensure kerbside collection services would not be disrupted. During this phase additional transport and landfill costs were covered by the NSW Government.”

Did the CHCC ‘sit on their hands’?

It is understood that in spite of possibly having been told in 2010 that the Englands Road Waste Facility would be full by 2020, and in spite of being given two years from 2018 to find alternative sites and treatments for the MWOO issue, the CHCC prevaricated and in the eyes of some in the waste industry effectively ‘sat on their hands’ possibly because they were ‘hoping to win in Court’ later.

 If correct this may go some way to explaining the situation that the CHCC now finds itself in relating to its current waste management woes

Once the state government MWOO transition support ceased the confidential report to the BSC states; ”it is understood that Coffs Harbour City Council and Biomass agreed to continue trucking the AWT output to Tamworth post cessation of the phase one funding in March 2020.  There was no consultation with or formal advice to BSC or NVC in this regard. It is understood that this practice continues as of the time of writing this report.”

Our story was correct

The CCO story on 19 August and linked above was right.  The confidential report to the Bellingen Shire Councillors two weeks ago makes this abundantly clear;

The BSC “is aware that a dispute between Biomass Solutions (Coffs Harbour) Pty Ltd and Coffs Harbour City Council (CHCC) in relation to an alleged $32m change in law claim concerning the EPA’s withdrawal of the exemption for the land application of the mixed waste organic output (MWOO) went to arbitration.

BSC and NVC have now been advised that the arbitrator’s determination was handed down in the week ending 14 August 2020.

Why the hush-hush ‘confidentiality’ about the arbitrators decision?

On the morning of 17 August 2020 BSC and NVC received advice from Coffs Harbour City Council.

It is unclear why there is so much consideration of confidentiality when both parties could have agreed to make the findings public and there should have been a presumption, in the public interest, that they be made public.”  (CCO understands Biomass is not opposed to the decision being made public)

“Aside the extensive advice about confidentiality there is some commentary about what is contained in the arbitrator’s determination and some rather impractical suggestions as to the information which can be conveyed to the public.

Relevantly for this Council clause 5 indicates that BSC is not entitled to have a copy of the Arbitrator’s determination (the Separate Award). So, this Council is plainly not a party to the agreement. This is of assistance in the event that BSC is unhappy with the implications of the Separate Award in terms of any additional costs this Council may be requested to pay for the processing and disposal of its mixed waste.

According to the advice, CHCC,

“is presumably free to announce to ratepayers that their rates will increase, if that is a consequence of the findings in the Separate Award”. (CCO emphasis added)

Also that CHCC “may be free to disclose to ratepayers, the Minister and others the effect of the Award, namely that the Revocation was not a change in law within the meaning of the Contract but the Council is required to pay Biomass’s “Increased Costs” and do the other things set out in the agreed orders, but this is more difficult to express a concluded view about …”

No way to treat your neighbours?

The confidential report to the BSC also highlights something CCO has suspected for a while. 

Namely, that the CHCC treatment of our neighbours in Bellingen and Nambucca on this issue at least has not been particularly ‘neighbourly’.  At least not over this issue over the past two years anyway. 

The Bellingen Shire Council. Not happy at being coninually ignored?

The confidential report to Bellingen Councillors states;

“BSC and NVC have now made collective representations to Coffs Harbour City Council seeking a meeting of the respective Mayors, General Managers as well as the Director Sustainable Infrastructure at Coffs Harbour City Council who has been managing the legal dispute with their contractor Biomass. A copy of the letter seeking a meeting is attached. At the time of writing no formal response has been received nor is BSC or NVC aware there have been any media releases issued by the CHCC” despite drafts being provided.

Later on there is this ‘killer statement’ in the confidential report;

“BSC and NVC have over the past two years sought to proactively engage with CHCC in the matter in an endeavour to protect the interests of our council and community. Invariable (sic) our approaches have been disregarded and invariably no response is received to our correspondence. We have previously asked for a three-council briefing and this has never occurred. Our most recent correspondence again requests a three-council meeting. As outlined at the time of writing no response has been received. This will however continue to be pursued.”

Have CHCC Councillors been briefed on this decision against their council?

It would appear Councillors in at least one neighbouring CHCC council have been briefed on the implications of the outcome of Biomass v The CHCC.

Have Coffs Harbour City Councillors also been briefed yet?  If not why not?

There is more, much more, in the BSC confidential report.

11 Comments

  1. Richard McDermott

    Is there anything else this dysfunctional Council can stuff up?
    Even though the majority of Coffs residents tend to always vote National Party which is a wonder in itself given the stagnation of the electorate, they still deserve better than this from their supposed non-party political councillors. If the ratepayers don’t replace over half the councillors at the next election including a Mayor who believes she doesn’t have to abide by convention when projects are to her liking then I guess Coffs will continue to fester. Which is a shame.
    What voters must ensure is that any new candidates are not just surrogates of those already sitting but come without any connexion baggage such as being members of certain business lobby groups or individuals to which they owe allegiance.

    • Graeme Sheehan

      Hear hear Richard. I know of one member of a business lobby group that was unsuccessful at the last council election, who is salivating at the thought of getting their hands on the levers of power at the next election. That person has also been a vocal driving force behind both the CCS and the leasing of the airport.
      I just hope ratepayers clue themselves up on candidate’s agendas before voting next time – whenever that might be.

      • Hi Graham
        In the morning I expect that Gurmesh will be back in his office after political engagements have kept him busy, and away from his desk for most of the day.

        Awaiting him are two auto emails issued from the new ePetitions system now accepted in the NSW Parliament … YAY !!! 🙂

        He will be agreeing to.be the MP tabling them.

        One is firmly seeking the Minister to act to use the temporary, for 12 months, powers she has to alter elections scheduling.

        The temporary alteration to the LG Act permits her to postpone for anything
        UP TO 12 months
        from this month when they fell due. (It’s a damn shame we aren’t voting in the imminent future as, barring the pandemic, we would have been.

        SO …there’s nothing to stop her reviewing again, and rescheduling for March.

        The NSW Electoral Commission have a 3 month lead time.

        I have set my elections, with it’s statewide catchment wording, upetition up to align with being able to change the current situation to instead being a SIX month postponement …..

        Which I am cautiously hopeful of us securing as long as we can collect the minimum 20,000 signatures that an “E” petition needs

        There will be calls to action to get the as yet not to hand link out to ask many people state-wide as we can ….

        More on this tomorrow.

        Suggest you ask to join one, or all, of the Facebook groups for: Toormina/Coffs Harbour Neighbourhood watch, Woolgoolga and the Northern Beaches what’s Happening, and the two local independent news outlets we thankfully have now. (News of the Area, and Coffs Coast Independent News.)

  2. Waste Warrior

    The secrecy and incompetent actions from Coffs Harbour City Council are frightening, the senior executive treat staff, contractors and supposed partners with contempt and the ratepayers of Coffs Harbour will be paying for this mismanagement long after they have taken off on high paid consultancy jobs with their friends.

  3. FOR DOOM THE BELL TOLLS.
    Hear the tolling of the bells
    Iron bells !
    In the silence of the night,
    How we shiver with affright
    At the melancholy menace of their tone !

    RING – RING
    The bell now tolls for the Mayor and the GM of Coffs Harbour City Council for they must have now reached their limits of what financial damage they can inflict upon our city.

  4. So why doesn’t Council want this decision made public some 15 or 16 days since the decision was handed down?

    Is the CHCC Executive trying to ‘duck-shove’ blame for their own hubristic, arrogant stuff-up onto some other poor sucker(s)?

    If so they should be made aware of Rudyard Kipling’s great dictum; “Power without responsibility. It is the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.”

  5. Max Brinsmead

    The problem, of course, is that we can’t do anything about this council whilst ever the Minister for Local Government keeps insisting that “it is ultimately responsible to its electorate” but denying us a poll until September 4th 2021. Please plan to sign my ePetition calling on the NSW Parliament to “Review its decision to postpone local government elections”, coming soon (I hope).

  6. Once again our Councillors have let us down in so many ways, it is very evident that the GM and senior management as well as Councillors have had plenty of time to address the issues before they have got so far out of control.
    Our Mayor and Councillors are there to represent the ratepayer not their own interests. Denise Knight, M Adendorff, G Ceccato and the rest of the lemmings your time will come and I hope you get what you deserve. We should be looking into the behaviour of our councillors and making it public so ratepayers see what type of people we have in control. Coffs Harbour ratepayers deserve better and should demand better from our Councillors.
    I believe that they are holding 23 million that they owe the company that runs the waste management facility (no wonder they made a profit). Rumour is the payout from this first court case could possibly be in the range of another $23 Million and the they have to pay for all the QC’s and legal team $?
    Can we afford to keep the current Senior Management and Councillors? Lets see who get the Deputy’s Mayor position, looks like it may be the ‘number one Lemming’.
    Well let start making these Lemmings accountable!

  7. Yes…you said exactly what I,
    and many others think, Richard.

    Have a look at this Facebook group:

    https://m.facebook.com/groups/176153650146835?id=176153650146835&ref=content_filter&_rdr

  8. Gabrielle Brabander

    ‘BSC and NVC have over the past two years sought to proactively engage with CHCC in the matter in an endeavour to protect the interests of our council and community. Invariable (sic) our approaches have been disregarded and invariably no response is received to our correspondence.’
    l know how they feel, as do 15,000+ residents who signed a petition and have continually been ignored, dismissed, and not listened to.

    • 40cmPedestalFan

      This is the critical point. The attitude by which this Council conducts itself is reprehensible. And yet it whips into full flight when sending out the self-congratulatory spin and the ‘have your say’ insults.

      Away from government we negotiate and disagree and always we are aware, and factor in, the cost of any alternative to what we will accept. We don’t end up in arbitration because of fringe disagreements – we do so only when we fundamentally or massively disagree.

      But that’s not so in government and certainly not with this Council. Who cares? We go to arbitration. So what? It’s not coming out of my pocket. Just part of my job. Let someone else sort it out. I’ve got other things to do. All for the community good. We need bigger offices, anyway.

      Same with Councillors. Get a public profile, get elected. Once in, the hell with what the community wants, I know better. That’s why I’m here. I know what’s good for the community and that’s all that matters. I’m in because my thinking is best, and my views are what matters. Or, if I oppose an agenda, and it gets voted down, so what? That’s democracy. I had tried to have my say and I had my vote. That’s the main thing. Everyone knows how I voted, it’s not my fault we’ll be in the shit.

      There’s nothing coming from this Council that expresses any higher standard than that, and certainly doesn’t actively seek one.

      It’s an arrogant, ill-functioning blancmange of failure to successfully heed and represent the good folk for whom they’re charged to do so.

      And then the two kickers to that. We can’t get to them: they’re safely locked away from the mass of personal influence that would properly tell them we don’t accept what they’re doing. And the system itself is toothless: only absolute corruption or absolute mayhem can attract the Minister’s intervention.

      Where’s the leadership? Any business, any organisation, any sporting group, any other body would acknowledge what’s wrong and set about correcting it. A leader would stand up, or one would be sought.

      Arrogance doesn’t count. What true attributes of leadership do we hear coming from within the secluded sanctity of Council? Who’s going to stand up, call it for what it is, and make a stand to set it right? Who’s going to take it to the public and tell them so? Who’s going to stand up and garner the full public support – willing and anxious and ready – to help him or her in this corrective action?

      This person:

      *crickets*

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