FARMERS face paying up to $250,000 in fines for failing to report land damaged by chemical and fuel

15 Nov, 2006 08:45 PM
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Under the new legislation landowners and corporations are obliged to report any contaminated land sites to the Environment and Conservation Department (DEC) to ensure public disclosure of any potential health risks.

Failure to do so will result in severe penalties for the responsible landowners under strict new reporting procedures.

While farmers face huge penalties for failing to report any land damaged by chemical and fuel spillages, corporations will also be in the firing line with a potential $1 million damage bill for similar behaviour.

The legislation will help identify and classify land sites in WA according to their level of contamination, to ensure correct disclosure on future property sales.

But while the act is pushing for greater environmental accountability, farmers face the added cost of hiring an environmental engineer to carry out assessment work on their property to help identify and classify any contaminated land.

According to experts, the cost of hiring an environmental engineer costs between $1000 for an initial report and $200,000 for a detailed report and assessment on extremely contaminated land.

The Act contains severe penalties for breaches, so landowners have been given time to prepare.

A six-month moratorium will be given to farmers to buy time for reporting any contaminated land with the potential to cause serious risk to human health.

Michael Whyte and Co. co-founder and senior solicitor Peter Michael said while news of the Act had not yet spread throughout the rural sector, farmers and landholders had plenty of time to prepare.

³Farmers and landholders have until May 31, 2007, to report any potentially contaminated sites without penalty,² he said.

Mr Michael said it was important that landowners took advantage of the six-month moratorium to assess their land, report any contaminated sites to the DEC and avoid any penalties.

Some of the potentially contaminated sites farmers will be required to report include arsenic-based sheep or cattle dips, uncontrolled landfills and rubbish dumps and land areas where fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides were not applied in accordance with manufacturer recommendations.

Storage of disused chemicals and large spills of hazardous chemicals or fuels that have impacted soil and may impact ground water and surface water must be reported to the DEC.

Salinity may also need to be reported where diversion of salinity on a property has caused an extraordinary concentration of salt.

Mr Michael said a contaminated site could be evidenced by ground becoming bare, such as around fuel depots and in the corner of paddocks where spills had occurred when filling machines with chemicals.

³As a landowner or a contaminator where you have identified a potentially contaminated site, you then have an obligation to report that site to the DEC using a reporting form, which is contained in the Act,² Mr Michael said.

³After receiving the report, the DEC can classify the land according to seven possible classifications ranging from a report not substantiated with not enough information to indicate the presence of contamination, through to land classified as contaminated restricted use.²

Mr Michael said landowners needed to be particularly aware of the new Act when considering selling their property to ensure any contaminated land was disclosed to a potential buyer.

³In certain circumstances, an encumbrance can be placed on the title to your land where a contaminated site exists and remediation is required,² Mr Michael said.

³When offering farm land for sale, disclosure will compel that all details in regard to potential or actual contaminated sites are disclosed to any potential buyers.

³Agents will need to be instructed in regard to any classifications of contaminated sites on the land.

³This must be clearly indicated to any potential buyers to avoid any future action for misrepresentation either by fact or by silence.²

Mr Michael said the Act spelled out that the landowner or the contaminator was responsible for the costs of obtaining a risk assessment for a contaminated site.

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