The smell crept into the house in the early hours of the morning, as Paul Beileiter tells it.
"The stench was so bad it woke me up," the Tarago resident said.
"Two weeks ago it was so overwhelming you couldn't walk between the house and shed without vomiting."
Mr Beileiter was speaking about the odour emanating from the Woodlawn bioreactor, some 6km west of Tarago.
Residents have been bombarding the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) with complaints via a 1300 number that Mr Beileiter described as a "painful process."
Bioreactor operator, Veolia Environmental Services, says it is working to address odour issues. However residents have argued the company's latest proposal for a $600 million waste to energy plant at the eco-precinct shouldn't proceed until the problem is resolved. It aims to process up to 380,000 tonnes of non-recyclable waste annually using a thermal technology.
The bioreactor itself receives 40 per cent of Sydney's waste, plus regional waste. It currently goes to landfill and a microbiological treatment facility, which converts 140,000 tonnes of organic material material per annum to compost. The bioreactor also extracts methane for power generation, has an onsite wind farm, solar farm and aquaculture.
Mr Beileiter said Veolia told the community from the outset there wouldn't be any odour.
"(But) people are smelling it from 25km away," he said.
"We have been fighting this for 14 years and we're sick of it. The EPA says it will do something about it but nothing happens."
He fears the smell will devalue properties in the area and impact on people's rainwater tanks.
Goulburn Mulwaree Council has submitted a comprehensive response to the company's request for secretary's environmental requirements for the waste to energy plant. These are factors to be considered in an EIS. At a meeting last Tuesday, councillors opposed the infrastructure in principle, but called for studies on a host of factors and independent monitoring of any odour. Veolia says the enclosed system, will not emit odour.
CEO Richard Kirkman said the company understood the concerns and was happy to address the issues. He stood behind the "fail safe" technology, saying Veolia operated 65 such facilities overseas, which utilised "world's best practice."
"The council says they don't want too many in the one local government area and that's reasonable," he said.
"They should be in the right location at the right time. I think the NSW waste to energy (draft) policy goes some way to doing that but some points need to be refined."
Mr Kirkman believed Woodlawn was in the right location, amid an eco-precinct, and close to rail links.
Regarding the odour, he told The Post that rain had contributed to the problem in recent months but the company was in constant dialogue with both the EPA and the community.
It has implemented several measures in response to EPA action, including more frequent sampling, investment in greater methane collection infrastructure and water management. A modified EPA licence is in place as a result.
Tarago and District Progress Association Incorporated (TADPAI) has also lodged a submission on the waste to energy proposal.
President Kym Wake said the the document was detailed in the hope of gaining responses to many unanswered questions at this early stage.
TADPAI does not endorse waste incineration, arguing it is "latent, problematic and inefficient technology" that risks human health, stock, crops, rainwater, ground water and the environment "no matter how vigilant anyone is to mitigate this."
The submission also highlights 170 odour complaints by residents to the EPA since January 1, 2021, including 49 over two weeks. Additional complaints were lodged with the company directly.
"Veolia should not be allowed to submit any EIS relating to any new works and operations, including this proposed waste incinerator until the current re-occurring odour issues are resolved permanently," the document stated.
Mr Wake said Veolia at a community consultative meeting on Thursday outlined the measures in place to address odour.
"They assured us they are leaving no stone unturned to fix the problem and that it is the CEO's priority because it is undermining their attempts to go forward with the waste to energy proposal," Mr Wake said.
"From the get go they said there would be no odour and that hasn't been the case.
"They have this new technology but have made promises in the past that were not kept. So the feeling is, how do we trust you?"
Mr Wake said TADPAI would take a "wait and see" approach as more information flowed as to whether it would oppose or object to the plan.
Mr Kirkman said he saw community consultation as perhaps the most important part of the process.
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