The offensive material – piles of wool scour Is it a fertiliser? or Is it a waste? Community concerns The odour! What is it? Where did it come from? Is it a pollutant? Is it toxic? How long will it be here ? Will this be ongoing?
Lines of communication September 2011 – April 2012 Long Forest Residents Council EHO EPA Council Planning Company Media Councillors Media enquires policy Councillor briefing notes Briefing note for Council management
Melton Weekly – Your Community Voice April 17 2012
Council Actions Public Health Prohibition Notice (cease composting activity) Planning – prohibited activity – must cease activity and remove existing ‘waste’ from site Planning request evidence of ‘agricultural activity’, compatible activity for Farming Zone through VCAT determination Timeframe for removal of material set and agreed upon Officers carried out regular inspections to ensure waste was removed All waste removed by April 2012 End of September 2011 – End April 2012 (7 months)
PART II 15 Months Later….. September 2013 It’s back Better composted…but still odorous
Important Points VCAT determination made – agricultural activity, compatible with farming zone (no permit required) Conditions include requirements to store at Laverton site (12 months) before being applied as fertiliser and requirement to comply with farm management plan: Application rates, product testing. Planning requirements satisfied But, despite all of this, if it’s still a Public Health Nuisance, it’s still a problem!
3rd September 2013, first complaint comes in, directed to Planning – then directed to Environmental Health. It is clear that this is no longer a planning issue – but a public health issue. Residents are emotional/upset/angry – do not understand why company is allowed to bring this product back Community ‘spokesperson’ has organised a community meeting (good starting point)
Communicating with the affected community and collecting evidence Approx. 25 residents at community meeting Excellent opportunity for community concerns to be heard by investigating officer and to be assured that the issue is under investigation (putting a ‘face to the name’). EHO able to outline clearly the scope of the investigation (nuisance under PH &WB), what the investigation required and the anticipated timeframes of what would happen next. Opportunity for residents to provide feedback on strategy and to ask any questions. EHO provided nuisance diary forms to residents to be filled out and returned to EH Unit (over a period of 7 days initially). Also advised that residents may also write in letters and may contact the EH Unit by phone or email (if the odour was detectable during working hours, EHO will attend and also nominated on call hours). Information easily communicated by EH at community meeting and also by email through a nominated ‘community spokesperson’
EH Unit LF Community Company Council management Councillors Streamlined communication process
In the meantime (while evidence is being collected)… Company (and land owner) must be contacted to advise that complaints have been received, an investigation is being carried out and further information is needed from company…Provides an opportunity for company to respond accordingly – they may be able to manage and resolve What is company’s response to ongoing community concerns? How is company managing odour? Is company willing to discuss concerns with the community? What is the onsite strategy – volume, frequency, odour management during spreading, complaints management? Can the company provide information on material composition to community to allay concerns about toxicity?
Engaging with the company Letter correspondence from company’s lawyers Company emphasis on VCAT determination – lawful activity in farming zone (reiterated in media statements) Reasonable opportunities provided for the company to respond to our requests for further information Do we have sufficient evidence to determine there is a public health odour nuisance (diaries, letters, officer reports)? Are we satisfied that we have adequate evidence that will withstand an appeal/review? YES & YES! Services of Louisa Dicker, Associate M&K Lawyers engaged. Public Health Prohibition Order Issued – to cease spreading material and must remove remaining material from the site – 24 September 2013
After the order… No appeal within 21 days – PH order stands Company now needs to provide the EH Unit with sufficient evidence and information to satisfy us that future spreading activities will not a nuisance including: -Report from consultants to improve composting process (to reduce odour) -Evidence of compliance with Farm Management Plan -Must engage with the community and develop a community engagement plan – so community is informed of future activities and has a channel for reporting complaints Community is very happy with the outcome!
Lessons Learnt… Identify leading agency/unit early on If more than one Council unit involved – work together! Ensure prompt/stream-lined two-way communication with complainants – ensure they know what’s happening and that their expectations are being met