For the past eight months, the Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association (BVSRRA) has been attempting to unravel the background circumstances preventing the use of the old Mobil site in Merimbula for ‘public recreation or green space’.
The BVSRRA’s interest in this matter was originally prompted by comments made by Cr Michael Britten at a public meeting convened in Merimbula on Wednesday, October 23, 2013.
During that meeting, Cr Britten stated that the land could not be used for public recreation, as it was never remediated by Mobil to the necessary standard, only to a so-called “residential standard”. According to Cr Britten, this apparently meant that the area could be built over but not used as park land where people might actually sit or lie on the grass.
The BVSRRA was concerned about the apparent contradictory nature of Cr Britten’s remarks. Indeed, subsequent inquiries with the NSW Environmental Protection Agency confirmed that the highest standard of remediation achievable is ‘residential standard’, with this being the standard required to permit domestic occupancy or for the operation of school playing fields and ovals.
Further, council resolved on July 3, 2012 to take steps to make the area available for public use as green space, ahead of approximately one third of the site being used for the Merimbula by-pass.
On May 6, 2014, BVSC advised the BVSRRA that ‘the contract of sale contains conditions that expressly prohibit recreational use of the land without the installation of an impervious layer. As this has not happened, Council faces legal exposure should open space or recreational use of the site be permitted’. Again, this claim appeared to be at odds with resolutions of council.
On May 15, 2014, the BVSRRA met with Cr Taylor and BVSC’s then Group Manager – Infrastructure, Waste & Water to clarify the standard of remediation required for the Mobil Site.
Mr Sartori confirmed that there was no requirement to remediate the site to a ‘residential standard’.
When I referred Mr Sartori to council’s resolution of July 3, 2012, he indicated that the Contract for Sale must have been signed before that resolution was passed and therefore the remediation requirement could obviously not be met.
Subsequent to that meeting however, the BVSRRA was able to confirm that when BVSC originally resolved to purchase the property back in 2009, that an express condition of said purchase was that the site must be remediated to a ‘residential standard’.
Following its meeting with BVSC, the BVSRRA acquired a copy of the Contract for Sale of the Mobil site and upon reviewing the contract, could find no reference to a requirement for an ‘impervious layer’ but there was a specific requirement that the site be remediated to ‘residential standard’.
So, given the various conflicting claims made in respect of the history of this matter, the BVSRRA became extremely concerned that either a concerted attempt has been made to frustrate and deny the legal directions of the council in respect to the use of the Mobil site or alternatively, the entire matter has been mismanaged.
On July 17, 2014, the BVSRRA registered its concerns with BVSC and called on council to arrange for a full and independent investigation into the matter.
In response, BVSC confirmed that a report would be prepared for council ‘later in the year’.
On July 31 2014, the BVSRRA again suggested that the matter required more immediate attention from BVSC and that an independent investigator should be asked to address the matter.
In responding to the BVSRRA’s request, BVSC denied providing misleading information or that unreasonable delays had been occasioned in responding to its requests. BVSC offered no response to the BVSRRA’s suggestion that an independent investigator be asked to examine the history of the matter.
For its part, the BVSRRA stands by its assertion that BVSC has provided conflicting and inaccurate information and that its responses have involved and continue to involve unreasonable delays.
The BVSRRA also believes that BVSC's vague promise that a report will be tabled with Council ‘later in the year’ reflects an unacceptable response to real and genuine concerns raised by residents/ratepayers in the management of this matter.
The BVSRRA notes that in spite of a requirement that an independent report be provided to BVSC by the vendor, confirming that remediation works had been completed to the standard stipulated in the contract for sale, BVSC has confirmed that it holds no such report. When the BVSRRA pursued this matter with BVSC, it confirmed that it was open to the BVSRRA to ask Mobil for a copy of the report if it wanted to.
For the record, the BVSRRA believes that it is entirely inappropriate for BVSC to have proceeded to settlement of the purchase of the Mobil Site without having satisfied itself that the contractual conditions attached to the purchase had been met; something that could only be achieved by BVSC having been provided with a copy of the Independent Report attesting to the standard of remediation works carried-out on the site.
Given the position taken on this matter by BVSC, the BVSRRA is now examining what alternate avenues are open to have the matter investigated independently.