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EPA points finger over ammonia

SITE: Gardenland in 2015.
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AN UNAPPROVEDcomposting business that is“most likely” the source of elevated ammonia levels in the Hunter’s drinking catchment is suing Port Stephens Council for refusing its development application.

Port Stephens Gardenland, in Eagleton, has launched a case against the council and the EnvironmentProtection Authorityin the Land and Environment Court.

It comes after theNewcastle Heraldrevealed last year the company had beenoperating without consent for more than a decade,and that polluted run-off from the business had been leachinginto Seven Mile Creek, part ofthe Hunter’s drinking water catchment.

At the same time, the company hada development application before the council that would have approved its composting operations.But after theHerald’sinvestigation, the EPA refused to issue conditions of consent, and despite the plan having the support of mayor Bruce MacKenzie, the council was forced to refuse the application in August.

Now, the company is taking the council to court in a bid to have the refusal over-turned.A mediation meeting attended by officials from the council, the EPA and Hunter Water was held last week, and the case has beenadjourned until mid-March.

Meanwhile, water testing in Seven Mile Creek in the past six months hasshown elevated levels of ammonia that Hunter Water believes is probably from Gardenland.

A spokesman for the water authority said based on itscurrent knowledge,“Port Stephens Gardenland is the most likely source of elevated levels of ammonia in the catchment”.

Hesaid that there was no“baseline ornormallevel of ammonia”, but that nearby Nine Mile Creek provided a“useful comparison” because of itslocation three kilometres north.

Both creeks weretested daily during and following the heavy rainfall of the January storms, with the resultsrevealingthat SevenMile Creek had ammonia concentrations of up to 0.14 milligrams per litrewhile NineMile Creekhad zero.

Gardenland owner Laurie Bowtell has previously saidhis company had not polluted the creek. He did not wish to comment when contacted by theHerald.

None of the authorities could or would answer whether the company was still operating outside of its consent.

The environment watchdog cited the legal action.

Hunter Water’s spokesman said it “understands that Port Stephens Gardenlandis continuing to store manure products onsite”.

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