this week, the only response from the State Government to the continuing delay in remediation of the toxic sands on the western edge of Bendigo was this:
“The Minister is confident the process is well under way and works will begin in spring.”
It is now more than three and a half years since toxic sands were exposed by the ferocious Black Saturday fires, in February 2009, in the regional park between Eaglehawk and west Bendigo.
It is more than a year since the community was told it would be “about six weeks” before work started.
It is more than five months since Parks Victoria’s ranger in charge David Major told the Bendigo Weekly: “Clearly it has taken much longer than we all expected, but we are hopeful the audit process will be complete very shortly”.
This week, no one was willing to say why the start of remediation is delayed, or to accept responsibility for that delay.
Mr Major said he cannot comment and would ask “someone” for information.
The Environmental Protection Authority also washed its hands of responsibility.
“Parks Victoria engaged an independent auditor to assess the level of risk the site posed to the environment (including human health), the extent of contamination and what the recommended clean up approach should be,” a spokesperson said.
“An auditor is appointed under the Environmental Protection Act 1970. EPA holds the auditor accountable by reviewing their reports and making sure they have followed EPA guidelines.
“EPA does not approve or change their findings.”
Back in March, Mr Major said the “endorsement of the clean-up plan is seen as a formality in the process as it has been previously been reviewed and commented on by the EPA.”
In June last year, Parks Victoria’s Glenn Mawson told a public meeting “We’re already ahead of the game”.
The plan, outlined at that time, is to reduce the area of contaminated sands from four hectares to 1.5.
That area will then be covered with compacted material, loose material and a layer of topsoil, and revegetated with grasses.
While the tendering process for the work is apparently awaiting a sign-off on the audit which was supposed to be a “formality”, in the meantime Bendigo has had several high rainfall events, causing minor flooding in some areas.
No report has been released, however, on whether these events affected the “hydro-mulch” covering put in place as a temporary measure to stabilise the toxic sands.
Environment and Climate Change Minister Ryan Smith was asked this week the reason for yet another delay on a clean-up which has been promised for so long.
His spokesperson issued that one-line statement expressing “confidence” that work will begin in spring.
The Weekly asked, again, on Wednesday why there was a further delay. By late yesterday, Minister Smith’s office had not responded.
For Henry Ott, whose shot nerves and sleepless nights brought to public attention the plight of those residents who live right next to the toxic sands,
it is one more slap in the face.
This week, Mr Ott said, “They won’t tell us what is happening.
“I just want it to end.”