Question

Legislative Council

QUESTION: Boral Linwood quarry at Hallett Cove

November 14th, 2017

On the 14th of November, Mark asked the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation a question about pollution from quarrying operations in metropolitan Adelaide.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: The Boral Linwood quarry at Hallett Cove, also known as Cement Hill, provides aggregates used for road building and other construction purposes in Adelaide. I understand it produces about one million tonnes of aggregate per annum. Whilst the quarry has been there for many years, the urban environment is encroaching and housing is now only a few hundred metres from the quarry. As the quarry also expands further southwards towards housing, it is increasing the number of complaints and the adverse impact on the residents. As recently as yesterday I have received emails and phone calls from local residents complaining about dust and vibration from explosives used at the quarry.

Now, I understand that at least seven state and federal members of parliament have visited the residents, including the minister, including the Hon. David Ridgway—they told me—and these MPs have visited the site, met with residents and listened to their concerns. I also understand that the EPA is looking into the residents' concerns about dust and vibration from the Boral quarry.

My question of the minister is: what measures is the government taking to manage the conflict between housing and mining at Hallett Cove, and in particular will you be advocating on behalf of the residents to halt the further expansion of the quarry towards residential areas?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change):  I thank the honourable member for his very important question. It is a question, of course, that has become more prominent over the years. When the quarry initially started operations there was virtually no-one living around that area. It was, I think, set up as a private mine in the first instance under old legislation which we no longer have. We amended the Mining Act in 1971 and subsequently as well, and the private mines have a rather strong grasp on their tenement and their position, which is quite distinct from the current situation under the Mining Act.

So, to be fair, they were there first, but nonetheless the community has grown, as the Hon. Mark Parnell has commented on, and has encroached closer and closer over time towards the boundaries of that mine. In dealing with these issues one has to perform a delicate balancing act, because of course everybody wants the products from the quarry at the best price they possibly can, and that means quarries being closer to their use, which means that the product will be cheaper. When you are building a home which relies on those products, or you are building roads and services that rely on those products, for example, then you are wanting a quarry close by rather than one that is at some distance, and you would have to then pay for transport costs. However, local amenity is also important, and these are issues that I know the quarry and the residents' associations have been working on for a considerable period of time.

As the quarry has been working outwards towards the boundaries, there have been a number of setback distances, I suppose is the best way of putting it, that the quarry owners have set for themselves and the community over the last 20 or 30 years. But of course as they have exhausted their internal part of the mine, they've been moving those boundaries closer and closer towards roads and residential properties, and I think at the moment from memory the boundary is about 300 metres.

The last time I spoke to residents and the quarry itself would have been earlier this year. My understanding was that residents were seeking an undertaking from the quarry on a couple of grounds. One was adequate notice of use of explosives, which I think from memory happens on Wednesdays; I could be wrong about that, but I think it is Wednesdays, usually 11 o’clock Wednesday mornings. I understand there is a—well, not a telephone tree any more, it would be—an email tree of some sort now where the quarry, or the responsible office at the quarry, sends out an alert or notice to the community saying that they will be using explosives at such and such a time.

There was an issue earlier in the year, which the quarry has owned up to, where they in fact used the incorrect explosives or the correct explosives in an incorrect way and had a much larger explosion at one time than they probably would have normally done. They confessed that that was an accident and have put in place procedures to make sure that that doesn't happen again. That caused great concern to the local community, not just in a larger than normal explosive noise but also in perceived earthshaking concerns and subsequent cracking, that people think is due to those explosions, in their homes and foundations, and also of course about dust.

I have been down to the quarry and I have seen the large extent of the dust suppression practices put in place, which is basically putting sprinklers on top of mounds of, I suppose, topsoil and other waste that is not required and to make sure that the site is wetted down before they explode but, nonetheless, in any such situation when you are actually using explosives you will incur some inconvenience in terms of dust. They do try to factor in, as I understand it, wind direction, and if the wind direction is inappropriate then they will delay the use of explosives until it changes to such a direction that it will not cause as much concern for residents as can possibly be done.

I understand from my last discussions with the company that in order to try and meet the residential concerns they will seek to halt their southward expansion of the quarry and move in an easterly direction, which I understand from my conversations with the residents is what the residents want, that is, away from housing to the west and south and to the north. That of course has to be based on economic factors. Is the resource in the easterly direction of the same quantity and quality that they would get elsewhere? Because they are a private mine, they have an ability to take the quarry right up to the very boundary of their property, but in a gesture of good faith as operators in a heavily residential area now, they have decided to set these certain setbacks.

Concerns have been relayed to me that the setbacks have been eaten away over the last two decades and that is something I have raised with the quarry, that when they do set these setbacks, they need to stick to them, otherwise the residents will feel that they have been sold out and cannot actually have any faith or trust in the quarry making these statements about setbacks, and that is something that the quarry has taken on board.

In terms of managing the conflict, that is really a matter, under all of our legislated instruments really, for the quarry owners to do. The EPA, of course, has been very active in monitoring dust and the concerns that have been raised by the local community. They have put in detectors, they have talked to the quarry about the explosives and have made sure, as I said, that in relation to the incident where they had an incorrect application of explosives earlier in the year that will not be repeated, and I have been assured by the company that they have put in place processes to make sure that it doesn't.

Nonetheless, the EPA has been an active participant. There is a residents' group that the EPA talks to quite frequently. They have acted as a conduit between the residents and the quarry. My understanding is that the quarry is meeting with the residents much more frequently, has updated its communications protocols and is producing newsletters.

But, at the end of the day, there will be conflict between the houses and the quarry as the quarry goes about its business. Our responsibility is to make sure that they do not exceed the tolerances that are set by regulations by the EPA in terms of creation of dust and, by all accounts from reports of the EPA, they have not exceeded those dust concerns.

Quite frequently, when people have issues about dust and they think it is actually due to a source of one sort or another, in some respects it often is not. It could be due to another dust source. We have found that in relation to quarrying in the south of Adelaide, not just here but also in another quarry further south, where the dust has actually come off some farming enterprises close by. So we cannot always be absolutely sure where the dust comes from, but it is obvious that it comes from explosive use and that is usually on a Wednesday, as I say, at 11 o'clock, and that is being closely monitored.

The EPA is involved probably more than it should be, but because of the breakdown between the residents and the quarry some time ago they have stepped in to try and mend those fences. My understanding is that the quarry has improved its processes, has not exceeded air quality in terms of dust in recent times, and is concerned to become a good neighbour, and is looking at taking its quarrying practices towards the east, away from the existing houses.

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