See you in court

By BELINDA SCOTT

CORAMBA residents are taking legal action over contamination of their land against a service station and Coffs Harbour City Council.

On Friday Peter and Belinda Attwill lodged a civil action for nuisance and negligence in the Supreme Court against the owners and operators of Coramba Service Station.

The nuisance action also encompasses Coffs Harbour City Council in its capacity as the manager of public land between the service station and Mr and Mrs Attwill's home.

Anthony Whealy, the Gadens Lawyers partner, who is acting in the matter for the Attwills, said they were claiming that the service station was negligent in the way it stored its petroleum products underground, allowing them to leak and continue leaking.

The nuisance action included Coffs Harbour City Council because 'nuisance' included a strict liability not to permit actions to have an effect on someone else's land and this was a big issue with the contamination in this case, since the nuisance was ongoing.

"There are still substantial amounts of petrol travelling through a raft of properties, including our clients' property." Mr Whealy said.

"We think Coffs Harbour City Council has its own public responsibility."

Mr Whealy said there was also a third claim of misleading and deceptive conduct against the service station and its owners and operators, concerning a report which purported to show that the spill had been contained and there would be no further loss or damage to adjoining properties.

He said the Attwills were seeking monetary compensation to buy a new property and leave the 'toxic' site.

Peter and Belinda Attwill's home at 5 Martin Street was declared a contaminated site in 2003 after the Attwills discovered benzene, a known carcinogen, leaking from the side of a bank on their property in 2002.

Subsequent investigations established the likely source of the contamination as a leaking unleaded petrol storage tank at the Coramba Service Station in Gale Street in Coramba, on the ridge above the Attwills' riverside house.

The leaking tank has since been replaced.

But benzene continues to leak into the Orara River and has been detected underneath at least 30 properties in the town at various depths.

The Attwills have been unable to sell or refinance their house, although the area of their land covered by the contaminated site declaration has been reduced.

The owner and operator of the Coramba Service Station, Dennis Thomas, said he did not want to comment.

Coffs Harbour mayor Cr Keith Rhoades said he could not comment and it was 'a matter of letting it run its course'.

Coffs Harbour City Council's 2007-2008 Budget Exception report for November December 2007, presented to the February 21 meeting of council showed that an additional $200,000 was required for legal expenses.

The matter has been listed to come to court in Sydney on June 6.



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