Woodberry swamp and floodgate project to benefit from EPA enforceable undertakings

Newcastle Stevedores and the Port of Newcastle Operations, as trustee for the Port of Newcastle Unit Trust, have entered into Enforceable Undertakings with the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) as a result of a pollution incident. Each party will provide $27,500 to the Woodberry Swamp and Floodgate Project.

The pollution incident occurred in June 2014, when almost one tonne of ammonium nitrate was accidently dropped into Newcastle Harbour while being unloaded from a ship at the number 4 Mayfield Berth.

Adam Gilligan, Hunter Region Manager, EPA, said although the incident was not intentional, it was contrary to the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997. The Act makes it an offence to pollute any waters.

“The incident was caused by Newcastle Stevedores staff lifting a damaged cargo bag,  not appropriately attaching the cargo bag to the lifting crane and holding the cargo bag over the space between the wharf and the ship, as the wharf was not clear to receive the cargo bag prior to commencing the lift.

Although neither company intentionally set out to pollute, a large quantity of ammonium nitrate was dropped into Newcastle Harbour.  When mixed with water, ammonium nitrate releases nitrogen, an element which contributes a significant nutrient load to the environment. In large quantities, this can have detrimental impacts on the environment,” he said.

Newcastle Stevedores has since implemented a range of measures to prevent this type of incident from reoccurring, including staff training, the implementation of new safety procedures and the identification and assessment of damage to cargo bags.

The Port of Newcastle’s prevention measures include new requirements for the handling of ammonium nitrate, ensuring that staff are adequately trained in the loading and stowage of the chemical and that the procedures for cargo lashing methods are reviewed. The company also issued an environment/safety alert to all port users citing the incident as a case study to encourage the development of safe cargo systems and procedures.

Under the terms of both Enforceable Undertakings, a total of $55,000 will be paid to the Department of Primary Industries to conduct research into surface soil acidity at Woodberry Swamp and fund modifications to the Greenways Creek flood gate, so the area receives regular tidal flushing to help reduce the damage caused by the acidity of the surface soil. 

Mr Gilligan continued and said “Enforceable Undertakings are just one of a number of tools the EPA can use to achieve environmental compliance from industry. Others include formal warnings, penalty notices, notices and directions, mandatory audits, and, when necessary, prosecutions.

“Enforceable undertakings may be entered into by the EPA for a variety reasons, including where the EPA is concerned there has been a breach of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997. Enforceable undertakings can include requirements to ensure that measures are promptly put in place to redress any environmental harm and obtain a good and lasting benefit for the environment,” he said.

For more information about the EPA’s regulatory tools, see the EPA Compliance Policy www.epa.nsw.gov.au/legislation/130251epacompl.htm