Benzene leak inaction fuel residents' anger
By LEE McDOUGALL
'FOUR years we've been waiting' came the cry from the public gallery at Thursday night's Coffs Harbour City Council meeting as residents of Coramba could no longer contain their frustration. The Coffs Coast Advocate first raised the plight of Martin Street residents Peter and Belinda Attwill and their contaminated land in March this year. Since that time, the growing enormity of the contamination has seeped throughout the small rural community, with residents now uniting in an attempt to find answers. Six residents of Coramba sat quietly through Thursday night's council meeting, waiting for Cr Rod McKelvey to raise the issue of benzene contamination in the village during 'questions without notice' at the end of the meeting. Cr McKelvey questioned general manager Stephen Sawtell over whether residents living along the Orara River downstream of the known contaminated site had been notified. "Down river cattle drink from the river, people pump from the river, water from the river is used for agricultural uses, this is starting to become urgent," Cr McKelvey said. Mr Sawtell said there was a 'whole complexity' to the issue, with the council having spent $176,000 in the past four years on water testing. "I'm not saying everything is perfect, but the parts per million on a monthly basis collected from the river has diminished," Mr Sawtell said. However, the response from Mr Sawtell did little to impress those residents in attendance. "Where is the duty of care?" asked Gale Street resident Steven Trewin. "There are houses for sale in Gale Street right now and people need to know that the land they are buying is quite probably contaminated." Larry Langman only bought his Orara Way property in November last year, and is angered that there was no notification from the council that the village could be contaminated. "We've had no notification of what the status of the river is, or how far the
contamination has spread," Mr Langman said. In January, 2002, Mr Attwill discovered an overwhelming chemical smell on his property. Subsequent investigations by the council and Department of Environment and Conservation
(formerly the Environment Protection Authority) identified the chemical as petrol. The Coramba Service Station, some 200 metres away, was identified as the likely source of the contamination, after an examination of the
underground tanks uncovered a hole. At the beginning of June this year, some four years and five months later, contractors bored test holes throughout the village to determine the spread and level of contamination.
The results of those test drills are expected to be released next week. Mr Sawtell said that while the issue was under the department's control, he gave a commitment to bring a report back to the council within the next two months.