05/10/2004 - 22:00

Contamination clean up

05/10/2004 - 22:00

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The creation of a free public database under new legislation concerning contaminated sites is expected to ease the transaction process for buyers of contaminated land.

Contamination clean up

The creation of a free public database under new legislation concerning contaminated sites is expected to ease the transaction process for buyers of contaminated land.

The legislation also seeks to enshrine the doctrine of ‘polluter pays’.

Contaminated sites are not currently regulated, and a general principle of buyer beware prevails.

However, with the implementation of the new legislation, the Department of Environment will have new powers to enforce site clean ups.

Nine new positions will be created within the department to help enforce these powers.

Department of Environment manager of land and water quality, Sharon Clark, said the legislation was intended to create a system for identifying and managing contaminated sites in Western Australia.

“An occupier or owner will need to report suspected contaminated sites, and it will be an offence not to report,” she said.

“Any person can report a suspected site, and a database of sites will be accessible to the public.

“There isn’t currently any legislation that deals with contaminated sites, and the polluter will be responsible for site remediation.”

Ms Clarke said the Department of Environment was currently aware of about 1,000 contaminated sites, but didn’t have a comprehensive idea of how many sites there were in the State, or their level of degradation.

“Contamination is generally from historical land use. For example, the EPRA land is the old gas works site,” she said.

“Contaminated sites can cause problems for developers, because clean ups can be expensive and problematic.

“Developers are having to clean up sites anyway, but this just gives it a statutory time frame.

“Where contamination exists, developers must plan for the assessment process as an integral part of their works program.”

Where there is a contaminated site or a possible contamination on site, a memorial with be put on the certificate of title to inform potential purchasers.

If contamination is suspected or known, a property owner is legally obliged to report it within 21 days or face a penalty of $250,000 and a daily penalty of $50,000.

There is a six-month moratorium on the obligation to report once the legislation is proclaimed.

Property Council executive director Joe Lenzo said the legislation was positive and gave certainty to people dealing with contaminated sites.

“The principle that the polluter pays is enshrined into the legislation and puts the onus on them to clean the site up,” he said.

“We have wanted to develop a State register of contaminated sites for some time.”

MPL Group environmental services manager Paul Myers-Allen said liability could still be contracted out of, but that if the regulator suspected contamination the sale of a property could be prevented or delayed.

“The Department of Environment can force the investigation of a suspected contaminated site,” he said.

“They will actively create their database, and will use the plethora of reports and complaints to compile it.

“It is hard to predict what will happen until the legislation comes in to effect though, as the level of interrogation into contaminated sites is not defined.”

Mr Myers-Allen said the legislation had been a long time coming, and third-part auditors would be used to provide reports to regulators advising the statues of sites.

Individuals may appeal against a site classification to the Contaminated Sites Committee, whose decision is final and without appeal.

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