On 20 November 2017 the Environment Protection Authority (“EPA”) requested municipal councils voluntarily disclose information concerning landfills for the purpose of compiling the Victorian Landfill Register (“Register”) and verifying information held by the EPA.
The public disclosure of the Register is scheduled for February 2018 via an interactive map on the EPA’s website (unrestricted access).
The EPA’s request sought confirmation of information held by the EPA in relation to the:
- location and extent of each landfill (vertical and horizontal);
- waste type and volume disposed at each landfill;
- date of closure of the landfill (where applicable);
- identity and contact details for landowners and occupiers;
- potential environmental and human health risks attributable to each landfill; and
- provision of information for any other landfill omitted from the EPA data set.
The request was answerable by 22 December 2017. The timing of the request and the response period allowed may result in incomplete disclosure.
The EPA request and limited consultation fails to address:
- the extent of landfills to be registered, for example:
- landfills licensed by the EPA under the Environment Protection Act 1970 (Vic) (post 1983);
- landfills licensed by delegated agencies under the Environment Protection Act 1970 (Vic) (1973-1983);
- landfills licensed/permitted under the Health Act 1958 (repealed), Land Act 1958 (Vic) and/or Crown Land (Reserves) Act 1978 (Vic);
- landfills on Crown land administered by State Government (Department of Environment Land Water and Planning, Parks Victoria, water corporations, etc);
- landfills on Commonwealth Government land;
- unlicensed although permitted landfills;
- illegal landfills;
- the scope of the disclosure, such as:
- waste cells (depth and lateral extent – licenced);
- waste cells (depth and lateral extent – not licenced);
- leachate and contaminated groundwater plumes;
- subsurface landfill gas migration;
- landfill infrastructure (final capping, landfill gas abstraction system, leachate abstraction system, monitoring wells, surface drainage, vegetation);
- reconciliation of the data with existing databases such as the Priority Sites Register, the groundwater quality restricted use zone mapping and environmental audit databases;
- verification of the information where EPA is not the generating source (e.g. third party reliance on reports produced by consultants and how limitations on the use of that information will be observed by the EPA and persons accessing the Register);
- the proposed terms to access the Register;
- any indemnity to or protection of municipal councils from any claim on voluntary disclosure of information for the purpose of the Register;
- the proposed remedy, where encroachment of incompatible land use onto a closed landfill or migration of contaminants from a landfill has caused damages to third parties:
- who is responsible for implementation of the remedy?
- who is responsible for the cost of the proposed remedy?
- how will the remedy be implemented?
- what notification or right of review or refusal will be available to a third party landowner or occupant?
- who is responsible for generating additional information regarding the landfill, where the information is incomplete?
- how further information will be generated and who pays for this work to be completed (e.g. compulsion by notice issued by EPA)?
The Register and EPA’s request to produce information is in response to recommendations made by the Victorian Auditor-General Office in its report titled ‘Managing Landfills’ published in September 2014.
The Register is an important initiative that requires integration with the Victorian Planning Provisions and other initiatives including identification, recognition and protection of separation distances for landfills in Victoria.
The time allowed to respond to the EPA’s request (4 weeks) and the proposed disclosure of the Register in February 2018 is grossly inadequate.
The Register and its importance to State Government, municipal councils and the Victorian community warrants a comprehensive engagement with stakeholders and extensive review by Council officers, councillors, technical experts, legal practitioners and insurers prior to public disclosure.