It's not often that religious leaders weigh into topical debates.
But Anglican Bishop of Canberra/Goulburn, Dr Mark Short, did exactly that regarding to Jerrara Power's proposal for a $600 million waste to energy facility at Bungonia.
Saint Nicholas Church rector, The Reverend Paul Davey read a letter on the Bishop's behalf at Goulburn Mulwaree Council's meeting this month. It was convened to discuss a response to the company's request for secretary's environmental requirements (SEARS) for the state significant development. The SEARS underpin issues to be addressed in an environmental impact study.
The Reverend Davey was one of 15 members of the community, many of them from Bungonia, to speak during open forum.
He said he wasn't from Bungonia but "breathed the same air." In addition, parishioners in the area were "very distressed about the proposal to process up to 330,000 tonnes annually of Sydney's waste in the rural zone. The Reverend Davies took the matter to Dr Short, who wrote that he had become keenly aware of the importance of environment and air quality, particularly to Goulburn Mulwaree residents.
"This was highlighted in the lead-up to Christmas, 2019 when we were unable to go ahead with an outdoors carols program because of the impact of smoke from the bushfires," he wrote.
Dr Short noted Jerrara Power's scoping report had mentioned residents' concerns about air quality, health and drinking water impacts associated with industry, including quarries in Goulburn Mulwaree.
"Noting the concerns that are acknowledged here and the fact that the vast majority of waste to be processed at the facility would come from outside the local government area, I support any process that would allow the interests and concerns of local residents to be fully heard and evaluated," the letter stated.
"I do not believe a consultation period (for the scoping report) that ends on July 15 achieves this purpose."
Dr Short said he had been greatly encouraged by Goulburn Mulwaree's growth in recent years, much of which had been driven by families attracted to affordable housing and "a clean lifestyle."
"I would be disappointed to see any development which puts this welcome trend at risk," he wrote.
The Reverend Davey said most people in the council area were not political activists but everyone voted.
He suggested that the council run a plebiscite at the next election asking people if they wanted Sydney's waste to be incinerated in the LGA.
"I am fairly sure of what they will say. It will strengthen our mandate, which is to say no to waste incinerators," he said.
He thanked the council for its leadership and for giving people a voice. The Reverend Davey said unity was needed in the same way Goulburn people banded together in the 1962 school strike, which helped secure state aid for catholic schools.
However, council general manager Warwick Bennett said money spent on a plebiscite would be better allocated to a legal defence.
The council is challenging the Department of Planning, Industry and Emvironment's (DPIE) legal ability to issue SEARS. It argues the project is contrary to the State Environmental Planning Policy (infrastructure) and the council's LEP. The council has also expressed its "total opposition" to the proposal, slated for a rural property the company purchased at 974 Jerrara Road.
The department refused to grant the council a three-week extension to seek further legal advice for their response. Instead, general manager Warwick Bennett said representatives "arrogantly dismissed" their concerns and doubted the validity of their argument.
But while the company expected SEARS to be issued last week, the department hasn't done so yet.
In a July 22 letter to Jerrara Power's planning consultant, the department requested further information before SEARs were released. This included:
- Details and supporting plans showing the potential alignment of an easement and transmission line connecting the facility to the Goulburn substation;
- Details of the easement and transmission line's permissability;
- An outline of how the EIS will address recommendations of the chief scientist's Energy from Waste Report, including the requirement for life cycle assessment and a detailed waste input, sampling and monitoring plan;
- Further details on the company's plans for a temporary workforce accommodation facility (for 300 people), including its location and scale.
This request picked up on feedback from government agencies and Goulburn Mulwaree Council. The latter has criticised incineration as a 'quick fix' for Sydney's waste problems and decried the city's lack of organic recycling.
Jerrara Power has until Wednesday, August 4 to lodge the additional information.
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