Mayor Bob Kirk hopes it is a good sign.
The state government's issuing of environmental requirements for a controversial waste to energy facility at Bungonia is one month overdue.
The SEARS, or Secretary's Environmental Requirements, as it is known is the next step in the planning process for the proposed $600 million facility at 974 Jerrara Road. It was due to be released on July 25 but the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) requested further information by August 4 from the applicant, Jerrara Power.
The company's managing director, Chris Berkefeld, told The Post in early August that this had been supplied and he saw no legal reason the SEARS shouldn't be released that week.
But three weeks has passed without word.
"It's an interesting development," Cr Kirk said.
"...It does make you think that the volume of objections (from residents) and us (the council), our legal people, the teleconferences we've had with the department, discussions with MPs and the Minister (for planning), may be having an impact. I can only deduce that.
"There has been some restraint and where it's at is a question for the department."
Mr Berkefeld said on Wednesday he didn't know why there had been a delay.
"But we have been advised of two things," he said.
"One is that the SEARS will be issued and the other is that permissability is not an issue."
Mr Berkefeld told The Post that department officials had advised his consultants, GHD, of this on Tuesday or Wednesday.
A DPIE spokesperson said that the applicant and the council had been advised that the SEARS "had been delayed until further notice."
However she revealed that the state government was considering further policy responses to strategic planning needs for energy from waste infrastructure. This was outlined in the recently released Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy 2041.
"The Department considers it is premature to issue SEARs for the proposal until this work has been completed, which is anticipated to be concluded soon," she said.
The council and Southern Highlands Progress Association (SHPA) have challenged the department's legal ability to issue SEARS. They argue that the project is best characterised as a waste facility that is not permissable in the RU2 rural zone and must be defined as a 'hazardous or offensive industry.'
Both have deeply criticised the department's move in late July to define it as an 'electricity generating' work. They say this is effectively creating a permissability pathway for the proposal that is inappropriate. Jerrara Power has conceded that just one-third of its income would come from electricity fed into the grid, and the rest from Sydney's waste.
The plant will receive up to 330,000 tonnes of waste annually.
The community has also bombarded the department with letters expressing its dismay over the department's definition.
In its most recent correspondence, the SHPA called on director, Chris Ritchie, to respond to the council's and their representations on the matter.
"DPIE's ongoing failure to address this matter in the manner in which it is not only law but its won policy requires, combined with the extraordinary suggestion made in its correspondence of July 28, can only be emboldening the applicant to now 'take DPIE's lead' and suggest itself that this is a project of electricity generating works," the letter August 24 letter stated.
Mr Berkefeld said he did not know whether DPIE was treating it as 'electricity generating' or 'a waste facility.' However the company's scoping report alluded to both as a permissability pathway.
Meantime, Cr Kirk has also responded to accusations by some Tarago residents that the council was not objecting as vigorously to Veolia Environmental Services' waste to energy application.
The DPIE has issued SEARS for that project, which proposed diverting 380,000 tonnes of non-recyclable waste from landfill and generating enough power for 50,000 homes.
In June, the council advised the department of a host of issues that should be considered in the SEARS. But it also objected to their issue and said it opposed waste to energy plants generally until the state developed a policy.
But some residents have accused the council of showing favouritism to Veolia because it was receiving $2 million in grant funding from the company's trust for Goulburn's Performing Arts Centre.
Cr Kirk has rejected any conflict of interest and said this was offensive.
In addition, he said the two projects were "very different." Jerrara Power's was located in a rural zone close to sensitive lands and the community and was prohibited.
"At Tarago, it is appropriately zoned (industrial), with infrastructure, community impacts, history of operations, water and other issues far more easily able to be addressed," Cr Kirk said.
"If the SEARS are issued for Bungonia as they have been for Tarago then they will both face the same level of scrutiny (from the council).
"We would still make our views known about emissions and the incineration of waste. We can't oppose Veolia's on permissability grounds but we can go in to bat for the community on operational issues."
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