Coramba residents Steve Trewin (left) and Brian Adam check the sump on the bank of the Orara River.
Coramba residents Steve Trewin (left) and Brian Adam check the sump on the bank of the Orara River. BRUCE THOMAS

Petrol still causing a stink

NINE years after petrol was reported to be leaking out of the river bank at Coramba, some residents say the problem is not even close to a solution.

But Coffs Harbour City Council executives say the end may be in sight.

“The smell the other day was noxious – it's worse than ever,” said Coramba resident Steve Trewin.

“The council has spent $800,000 and the (air sparging) system was only turned on last week.

“It has not been turned on for six weeks and there has not been a public meeting for 18 months.”

Brian Adam, who said prevailing winds usually pushed the petrol odours away from his riverside home at Coramba, said he had also noticed the strong smell.

Unleaded petrol was discovered leaking from the banks of the Orara River at Coramba in 2002, on the Attwill family's property, beside a popular swimming spot and just upstream from where the village's water was then pumped out of the river.

Groundwater is believed to have been contaminated by fuel which leaked from a storage tank at the Coramba Service Station. The leaking tank has since been removed. It was estimated the leaked fuel would take two years to disperse, but that estimate was optimistic.

Using funding from the NSW Environment Trust, the Coffs Harbour City Council is managing the installation of an air sparging system to remove petrol from the groundwater near the river.

The city council's manager of strategy and sustainability, Jeff Green, said the system had been in a testing phase and would still be in the commissioning phase for the next few weeks.

He said the smell and the bubbles visible in the river shallows were caused by a too-high air pressure in the system with some air escaping through the ground.

“The system was only activated last week and we had to adjust the air pressure,” Mr Green said.


He said when fully commissioned, the system would operate 24-hours-a-day but would only run intermittently.

Mr Green agreed the whole process had been ‘protracted' but delays were caused by having to gain planning approvals, by flooding and by continuing wet weather.

The council now needed access to the Attwills' land for the second stage of the sparging system, which would accelerate the process.

Mr Green said an on-site meeting when the sparge was being installed had been suggested at the last meeting of the Interagency Working Group, but there had been no take-up of that offer.

He said the council was sending out updates by email and there had been no request for a meeting.

Mr Green said the old sump on the riverbank had been put in to capture seepage when the fuel leak was first discovered and was still being pumped out as required.

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