Coffs Harbour City Council hosts waste conference as local waste issues continue to mount

This Wednesday Coffs Harbour hosts Australia’s major annual Waste Conference. The Conference, to be held at Opal Cove Resort, comes as a number of issues coalesce to highlight that waste resource management is rapidly becoming problematic in the Coffs Harbour local government area (LGA).

By The Editor

Mayor Denise Knight is due to deliver an opening speech to the conference at 8.55 a.m. on Wednesday (see conference agenda screenshot below).

Last week in preparation for this, and continuing local waste management related stories, CCO spoke to a number of local waste management operators and the following points were both discovered and separately confirmed;

  • It is highly likely that the EPA believes that the smell many have been complaining about recently probably emanates from the landfill at the Englands Road waste management facility. We understand that Council manages and operates the landfill itself separately from HandyBin and Biomass Solutions.
  • We have been told that if waste continues to arrive at the landfill at the current rate then the landfill will have reached its maximum in 12 to 18 months time. This is unless the State Government approves raising the landfill walls which is a fairly large task in itself.
  • In light of the scenario in the bullet point immediately above Council management is looking at alternatives such as shipping landfill waste to Grafton or even Queensland if the State Government were to agree to such arrangements, particularly the latter.
  • We are aware that in a question on notice tabled by Cr Amos four years ago Council management admitted that the remaining life of the landfill at Englands Road was ‘about four years’.
  • We understand the NSW Government is in the process of reviewing waste levies. It is possible the levy may remain the same for a few years but if it doesn’t local waste contractors believe any new levy could add $80 a tonne to the handling costs for the three Coffs Coast LGA’s. Note: At 11.20 a.m. on Monday 3 May CCO was informed that Council have been hit with an extra $85 per tonne levy on the MWOOF going to Tamworth by the State Government. We understand that the CHCC may be the only Council in the state this has happened to. Which makes one suspect they are in the State Government’s ‘bad books’ if correct. This new cost works out at between $8k and $10k extra a week on top of the current $70k per week, minimum, trucking costs. So all up that is approximately another half a million a year on top of the current MWOOF trucking costs.
  • The original binding decision in favour of Biomass Solutions handed down in August of last year, pertaining to the trucking of MWOOF to Tamworth remains in place and we understand it cannot be appealed. It is estimated that the overallcost to the CHCC currently amounts to approximately $31m until the contract expires in March 2027 as pointed out in earlier CCO stories on this. See; https://coffscoastoutlook.com.au/un-neighbourly-behaviour-the-waste-management-plot-thickens-biomass-v-the-chcc/
  • CCO also understands that the CHCC has commenced legal proceedings against the Nambucca and Bellingen Shire Councils in regards to the MWOOF matter and that relations between those two Councils and the CHCC may now be somewhat ‘tense’.
  • We understand that Cr Sally Townley has tabled a question on notice pertaining to waste management for the next Council meeting on Thursday 14 May. The agenda for this meeting should be published this coming Friday afternoon (May 7).
Industry sources tell CCO that the Englands Road landfill is all but full

CCO – 2.00 p.m. – Monday 3 May 2021: The EPA Press Release about the MWOOF levy increase mentioned above in bold is below. Coffs Harbour is the only one to be given a levy increase. Although the media statement cites Biomass CCO understands that the company is restricted by the CHCC decision two years ago that meant MWOOF ultimately had to be trucked to Tamworth.

Note: We understand the levy could add another half a million dollars a year to the costs of dealing with the Coffs Coast’s MWOOF via a charge straight back to Council.

“Waste levy exemption extended for waste facilities transitioning to organics

03 May 2021

The waste levy exemption on mixed waste organic outputs has been extended for four Alternative Waste Treatment facilities that are transitioning to other sustainable resource recovery methods using organics waste.

Mixed waste organic outputs (also known as MWOO) are the end-product of a practice which aims to separate the organic waste in household red-lid bins from other waste for re-use, rather than sending it to landfill.

The levy exemption extension has been approved for a further 12 months for mixed waste organic outputs produced at the following four licensed waste facilities:

  • Suez Kemps Creek facility
  • Suez Port Stephens facility at Raymond Terrace
  • Veolia facility at Tarago, and
  • Eastern Creek Operations facility.

Environment Protection Authority (EPA) CEO Tracy Mackey said the extension will waive the waste levy on mixed waste organic outputs processed at the sites during their transition away from the material and moving to organics recycling, until 1 May 2022.

“A waste levy exemption for mixed waste organic outputs has been in place since October 2018 when the EPA revoked the resource recovery exemption for the application of this material to land, due to risks associated with chemical and physical contaminants, such as glass and plastics,” Ms Mackey said.

“This additional 12-month extension was based on these sites being able to demonstrate that they are transitioning to more sustainable resource recovery outcomes. It is great to see these four operators are adopting new practices.

“To help affected local councils and industry operators adopt more sustainable management measures for their organic waste, following the ban, the NSW Government announced a $24 million alternative waste treatment transition package in March 2020.”

The exemption for the Biomass Solutions facility in Coffs Harbour has not been extended meaning the waste levy will apply to mixed waste organic material processed at the facility.

“Unlike the other facilities that have been approved for the purposes of the MWOO levy exemption, Biomass has not demonstrated sufficient progress or intent to transition to more sustainable resource recovery outcomes, which are necessary to achieving a positive long-term environmental outcome,” Ms Mackey said.

More information about mixed waste organic outputs is available on the EPA website here

See; https://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/news/media-releases/2021/epamedia210503-waste-levy-exemption-extended-for-waste-facilities-transitioning-to-organics

Emphasis added by CCO.

10 thoughts on “Coffs Harbour City Council hosts waste conference as local waste issues continue to mount

  1. Denise Knight, opening speaker, who has never once carried out the mayor’s role of holding the general manager to account, nor headed up the governing body in any assessment of the general manager’s performance. Not once in, what, a decade?

    While a governing body votes on determinative matters, it does so with advice given by council management, advice that brings with it management’s recommendation for that vote. It is time to sheet home the true costs of this council’s managerial advice and recommendations, and ‘autonomous’ decisions not involving the governing body.

    It can only be reiterated. This council’s legal actions tie up staff, resources, and clog the system for this LGA progressing. We need to know the true and full cost of Council’s court matters. The same paid staff who devote time and resources to preparing and running court matters also are supposed to be handling the community’s matters, dedicating resources to these and progressing them.

    Given expensive staffing, the true and full cost of council’s court matters is, I’m sure of it, substantial. Staff hours dedicated to court matters needs to be separated, clarified, and published. Then add an accurate, honest, total of resource cost. Then add to that the opportunity costs of crippling a council system, by which this management has shackled the community and held it back. Sadly, neither will happen. No councillor, and certainly not this partial mayor, has the will or mind to seek the full costing, and if it should come, that costing I feel cannot be trusted. We have to get Council’s financial situation clarified externally.

    I reckon Steve McGrath and the executive have skirted along freely with this substantial cost going undetermined, for years. If it were a car they’re manufacturing to drive, that car would be scraping along the ground with a wheel missing, have a wonky steering wheel, dirty fuel, and seats gone.

  2. Just like she’s done during past years to hide her disinterest and lack of knowledge of the subject matter, I look forward to another anecdote from the mayor’s repository of hilarious personal adventures during her welcome speech.

    This conference provides the perfect backdrop to her nine years managing the LGA – ie for the most part it’s been rubbish!

  3. My reading is that the EPA announcement clearly calls out Biomass Solutions as the culprit, not CHCC “….. Biomass has not demonstrated sufficient progress or intent to transition to more sustainable resource recovery outcomes, which are necessary to achieving a positive long-term environmental outcome,” Ms Mackey said.

    What has Biomass Solutions got to say now that they have lumped us with an extra $80 a tonne in costs? Not telling you how to do your job but maybe CCO could ask Biomass Solutions for a comment in response? I’d love to hear what it is.

    Editor: We have approached Biomass for a response in light of your comment/question. We will publish their reply if/when we get it. Although we would point out this was was the subject of a binding Arbitration hearing which in August of last year found in favour of Biomass.

    1. “Boatie”, funny how Councils Director of Infrastructure calls himself a boatie, regularly undertakes sailing trips all over the world – must be a coincidence

  4. Where does one even begin to reconcile and compartmentalise the mounting issues confronting the Coffs Community. It would be easy and most justifiable to slag off at one or two councillors, but in anyone’s books, the buck stops with the person in charge and that person is Steven McGrath.

    If any rectification is to take place, a group of Councillors, sufficient to be of majority, MUST now call for Mr McGrath to stand down. No IFS no BUTS. He’s been the very root cause of all the troubles and financial dilemmas we seem to have gotten ourselves into.

    So, if there’s enough of you councillors reading this extraordinary CCO article, with the stomach, gather yourselves together and be brave enough to owning up to the fact it’s now time to give notice to your GM.

    We won’t waste too much time and considered thought to Mayor Knight. She’s now ensconced with preparing her script for the opening address at the upcoming conference on waste. I mean, what a helluva joke. One couldn’t even make up such a story of a Mayor, so up to the neck in stench herself, having the guile to happily address a room full of highly respected waste and shite experts.

  5. It is my understanding also that it is Biomass Solutions Pty Ltd that is the responsible entity. I further understand that EPA has pursued Biomass (with respect to odour) since 2017.

  6. It would certainly suit both EPA and Council to pour the blame on Biomass, whilst the result of the arbitration is certainly confidential perhaps the fact Coffs Council was so sure of their legal prospects was why they refused to negotiate with Biomass.

    Also worth noting that the other facilities impacted by the decision which have had the funding extended are all being asked to transition to fogo processing, unfortunately this is not an option available to Biomass as they were the first to do it and have done it for over 15 years and continue to do it – this certainly appears to have been lost in the decision.

    Council had previously been happy to take the plaudits for the best landfill diversion in the state until it all hit a snag and they have tried to blame everyone but themselves. Even their partner Councils in Bellingen and Nambucca have laid the blame at Coffs Harbour.

    Maybe instead of asking Biomass questions about the decision of the arbitration the correct question may be asking Biomass to disclose proposals that have been given to Council to mitigate the situation with a reasonable outcome for all parties that have been ignored because of their legal position? How has that worked out for them so far?

  7. It is pretty easy and understandable to see how Boatie and others think the new levy is the fault of Biomass. After all that is who Ms Mackey of the EPA explicitly names.

    But that is because Biomass has the contract to manage the MWOOF. However two and a bit years ago the EPA changed the rules on MWOOF and the Government, through the EPA, gave numerous council’s a $24 million alternative waste treatment transition package in March 2020.

    My understanding is that the CHCC were given $2m to put in place a transition program that they would need to work through with Biomass.

    For whatever reason all NSW Councils except one managed to achieve this. That one council was the Coffs Harbour City Council from what I can figure out.

    And out of that a dispute over the MWOOF contract lead to arbitration between the CHCC and Biomass.

    That arbitration found in favour of Biomass in August of last year.

    Now this is where it gets interesting.

    I have been told by Bellingen Council contacts that Biomass, Bellingen Council and Nambucca Council have all said they are fine with the arbitrators decision being made public.

    I understand that only the CHCC has said ‘No’ to the release of this decision, something legal people attached to the three parties named first find both astounding and highly unusual.

    However under arbitration if one party says no to the release of a decision then that is the situation.

    If what I say is correct, and I have no reason to believe it is not, then the questions that need to be asked are;

    (1) What is the CHCC afraid of? What is so secret and hush, hush and why?
    (2) If Biomass are required to make a comment on this, as Boatie suggests, then why wont the CHCC tell its residents and ratepayers why they wont let us see what the arbitrator apparently found that lead them to find in favour of Biomass?
    (3) Perhaps a CHCC Councillor might like to do a question on notice based on my Point 2 above?

    I notice CCO covered this issue when discussing a confidential Bellingen Council minute relating to this.

    Here is a quote CCO published that comes directly from that Bellingen Council document: “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).”

    That story can be found here; https://coffscoastoutlook.com.au/un-neighbourly-behaviour-the-waste-management-plot-thickens-biomass-v-the-chcc/

  8. If Waste Warrior’s suggestion that “Boatie” is in fact Council’s Director of Infrastructure in disguise, we have every reason for alarm. Public servants are required to make open and honest declaration of their actions under delegated authority, not act as a sniper hidden behind a rock, manipulating by deceit. Is this true “Boatie”?

  9. This statement, pared down but keeping its integrity as issued by the EPA, is hard to compute: “Biomass has not demonstrated sufficient intent to transition to more sustainable resource recovery outcomes”

    Biomass doesn’t intend to transition?

    It’s going to hold out while the world changes around it, watching its clients and income turn away and desert it?

    I don’t think we can take any insight or enlightenment from that statement by Ms Mackey. It lacks so much more information to give it context that it’s meaningless. It may be that the statement is relevent only within the Biomass-CHCC context (as in Biomass has no intention of moving, or saying it’s moving, in a direction with CHCC until its court case is resolved).

    Hopefully Biomass will respond to CCO’s request. What is of particular interest is the attitude Biomass found in its period of discussions with CHCC. If it’s anything like CHCC management’s attitude in council meetings – smug, righteous, treats questioning of its righteousness with disdain; is overachieving; can’t do wrong – then we could more easily understand how discussion then arbitration broke down.

    What worries is that if that’s how CHCC Management presents itself in public, how is it in private? No holding to account, let’s remember, from any source whatsoever – how has this affected this management’s attitude over many years? Biomass may well be able to provide some clarity here for all of us, and could be of enormous help to the community by doing so.

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