INTERNET searches for the Grantville Environmental Review Committee (ERC) draw a blank. There is no contact number for queries or complaints, no agenda or minutes are published and meetings are closed to the public. It’s even difficult to find out where and when the ERC is meeting.
This committee is supposedly the community’s conduit to raise matters of concern with the local sand mining industry and the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, but it operates more like a secret society.
Save Western Port Woodlands (SWPW) has been requesting the ERC’s terms of reference for over a year. We were informed that it was under review. We asked for the current ones in the interim but there is still no response. The ERC includes three community representatives but the selection process remains a mystery.
This is a matter of concern given the serious impacts of sand mines on nearby residents, including dust, noise, traffic, land clearing and groundwater discharges into Western Port.
After a year of requests, SWPW members were finally invited to attend a meeting of the ERC last December and left six questions for a response. The response took almost six months to arrive and gave little relevant information. SWPW’s request for minutes of the meeting was declined.
At the December meeting, operators also declined a request by SWPW for independent analysis of pollutants released into ground water by sand washing operations.
That these simple questions can't be satisfied further entrenches the community's view that the State Government processes relating to sand interest areas, approvals, monitoring and enforcement are stacked against the Bass Coast community.
The role of the Environmental Review Committee should be to review the effectiveness of the environmental management program for the site; and provide timely feedback on any environmental problems associated with the extraction operation.
Lang Lang to Grantville Regional Sand Extraction Strategy
After years of conflict between the sand mining industry and local people, it was a landmark compromise: sand mining would be permitted in less environmentally sensitive areas but a network of conservation reserves would provide habitat and biolinks for threatened species.
“It is the only contract ever signed by the Minister, the community and the sand mining industry,” says Anne Westwood. “And it has been totally ignored ever since.”
One of the areas that has not been fulfilled, she says, is the promise of communication with the community.
“Against great opposition from the sand extractors the strategy mandated that every sand company in the region should have an environmental review committee to hear the community’s concerns.”
The strategy states: “The Committee must be convened under the auspices of the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment and representatives of the operator, Environment Protection Authority, relevant municipalities, and the local community must be invited to participate.”
Initially there was to be an ERC for each sand mine. This was later changed to one ERC for every company operating in Bass Coast. There is now a single ERC for the whole of Bass, including representatives of all the sand mining companies: Holcim, Hanson, Barro, Sand Supplies and Dandy Premix.
As stipulated in the Sand Strategy, the committee’s role was to review the effectiveness of the environmental management program for each site and provide timely feedback on any environmental problems associated with the extraction operation.
Ms Westwood said the strategy clearly stated that the local community must be invited to participate. “This has been ignored by the Shire and Government and everybody else.”
“There is no communication between the community and the ERC. There is no way for residents to raise issues of concern and there is no requirement for the sand miners to respond. The community has absolutely no idea what is going on.
“What’s the point of making these agreements and laws if they can just be broken with no repercussions?”
Neil Rankine is a former Bass Coast mayor and a member of Save Western Port Woodlands.