‘Toxic Tim’: Trucks block central Werribee in protest against soil-dumping plan
Forty trucks and tractors have blocked a central street in Werribee as hundreds of residents gathered to oppose a controversial plan to use a Wyndham Vale rail yard as a dumping ground for the West Gate Tunnel’s contaminated soil.
Residents, farmers and trades workers gathered at Station Place on Tuesday night, holding signs with images of their local MP and Treasurer Tim Pallas and the phrase “toxic Tim Pallas”, while chanting: “Pallas soils Wyndham” and “dump Pallas, not soil”.
The protest comes weeks after The Age revealed an Andrews government proposal to use a Wyndham Vale rail yard as a temporary “back-up” site for some of the project’s soil, which is laced with asbestos and potential carcinogens, PFAS. The rail yard is just 70 metres away from housing, and abuts four planned schools.
Labor MP Joanne Ryan, whose Lalor electorate takes in Wyndham Vale told the swelling crowd that Transurban was the decision maker in the proposed soil dump and the plan should not go ahead.
“We will not allow short cuts to be taken in what should be a carefully considered plan that has our environment and our health at the centre of that plan,” she said.
Ms Ryan said residents could be confident they would win this fight, after they successfully opposed plans by CSR Limited to turn its Werribee quarry into a toxic dump and waste management precinct in the late 1990s.
As part of that campaign, protesters drove tractors to the steps of Parliament House, which they planned to do again if Labor refused to back down from the current dumping plan.
Ms Ryan was a member of the local resistance group called the Werribee Residents Against Toxic Dumps and said the local activism in the three-decade-old fight provided a template for how to stop Labor’s plan.
“You left a recipe,” she said to many of the protesters who were involved in the rallies in the 1990s. She also called on residents to sign a petition circulating in the crowd.
Tractors blocking the road to traffic were driven by Werribee farmers concerned the dumping plans would contaminate the Werribee River, which irrigated vegetable farms in Melbourne’s west.
Protesters yelled that they would launch a class action if the river was contaminated by the dumped soil.
Ricky Santamaria, a Werribee South farmer who produces broccoli and cauliflower, accused the state government of “always trying to use us as a dumping ground for anything and everything”.
“We’re not going to put up with it and if they don’t listen to this we will keep making more noise,” he said.
Werribee residents also successfully opposed a Labor plan to build a youth detention facility in Werribee in 2017. About 8000 people showed up to their rally in Werribee South that year.
Digging on the West Gate Tunnel project is set to run about a year late, with builders threatening to leave the job due to the discovery of PFAS soil on site and an impasse over where to dump it.
Transurban and the builders are scrambling to find a landfill operator that will accept the contaminated soil, with Hi-Quality in Bulla, Maddingley Brown Coal in Bacchus Marsh and Cleanaway in Ravenhall being the likely destinations for the soil.
But tensions over these plans are running high, with furious Bacchus Marsh locals now preparing a large protest next week to oppose sending the PFAS waste to Maddingley.
The site is within one kilometre of multiple schools, while the Parwan Creek, which flows into the Werribee River, runs alongside the site.
The project’s untested soil would be be stored at the Maddingley site and tested up to 20 days later to determine its level of toxicity, according to Moorabool councillor Tonia Dudzik.
The project would send one truck to the landfill every six minutes, but an additional turning lane and other road upgrades would be needed, as the gravel roads in the area were not wide enough to allow for two-way traffic.