Cleanaway’s Banksia Road tip site started off “a harmless little rubbish tip”, but it has expanded over time.
“Under the sleepy eyes of Dardanup, this site has grown into a significant and complex assortment of different wastes on the Darling Scarp,” Mr Manning said.
“In the middle of a beautiful, pristine tourist area.”
Mr Manning said residents had complained in the past about dust, rubbish and water runoff contaminating adjacent farmland and conservation park areas, and Cleanaway’s efforts to fix these problems had been only partially effective.
Yet residents were largely resigned to the dump – until they heard Cleanaway was now applying to take an almost impossible-to-imagine quantity of waste from an industry that has never previously existed in Australia: lithium processing.
It has proposed to dig a 522,000-tonne capacity ‘cell’ for the tailings within its existing premises.
Once this cell is full, it plans to stack the tailings in layers against existing landfill ‘cell’ embankments and to build additional storage areas in the future.
Cleanaway is also separately negotiating a lease to expand its footprint.
Residents are worried about the sheer quantity of the waste given the existing bulk of the site and the existing problems with dust, litter and runoff into farmland, conservation park and state forest on the doorstep of a wine and tourism region.
Dardanup Environmental Action Group, of which Mr Manning is part, is now fighting.
More than 500 people total have turned up to three community meetings at Dardanup and Ferguson halls. This week they erected signage against the proposal.
“We are not against a lithium boom. We encourage and welcome it and love the idea of more jobs, more wealth and prosperity coming to a struggling area of WA,” Mr Manning said.
“But this is not the place for an ever-expanding waste dump.
“The residents and the people of the Ferguson Valley, the tourist operators, the vineyards and restaurants in a part of WA known around the world, wonder where this will stop?
“We have said this so many times to their managing director, the attitude of the town has been made vehemently, desperately clear to him, Damien Burton, that we don’t want this. Stop now. Please. Enough is enough.
“They say they want to be a good neighbour. A good neighbour would listen. But all they hear is dollars and profit.
“They just think, where’s Dardanup? Oh, down there … suck it up guys, take one for the team.
«It’s not a matter of not in our backyard, it’s just the ridiculousness of this ever-expanding site expanding and creeping insidiously through the South West.»
Residents are also worried about the potential for dust and leachings from the tailings to pollute the region, given they are a relatively unknown substance in Australia.
The tailings don’t fall into any of WA’s already-defined waste classifications and Cleanaway had to supply an analysis from a Melbourne laboratory done on tailings from a similar plant in China.
It was provisionally classified as Class IV on the basis of elevated total concentrations of beryllium and mercury, a classification that “required further assessment” according to the consultant report.
“If this was in Margaret River there would be a massive national protest,» Mr Manning said.
“There is an industry, an environment and a way of life at risk here.
“We don’t benefit from the lithium boom, we just end up with this toxic scar on the landscape. Don’t give us that bullshit. We’re not stupid.
“They’re not coming clean with us.”
Cleanaway wrote in its application that the tailings were inert and non-toxic.
There were no markets in Australia to recycle such volumes as these, it wrote.
But it said: “By storing tailings in dedicated storage cells, in the event a sustainable market for reuse was developed, the material might one day be recovered.”
After a community request was made at a special council meeting, Dardanup Shire referred the proposal to the Environmental Protection Authority, outlining potential concerns.
The EPA is considering whether to assess the proposal and if so, what level of assessment would be appropriate.
A Cleanaway spokesman would not confirm the size of the additional land the company had applied to lease, saying landlord negotiation was continuing and there were “no current plans” for the additional land.
The spokesman also would not reveal information regarding truck movements, saying this was “commercially sensitive as we are still in negotiation with our potential client”.
A traffic management plan would be part of the development application to the Joint Development Assessment Panel when this was made, he said.
«We are committed to playing our role in a job-creating lithium industry. It will mean more local jobs in the South West region, which has an unemployment rate higher than the state’s average,” he said.
“It will also make WA a hub for innovation and support greater up-take of renewable energy generation by reducing the price of one of the key components of large storage batteries.
“The joint Development Assessment Panel will consult with the Shire of Dardanup and the community.
“We have been a member of this community since 2006 and we are committed to ongoing engagement.
“The feedback we receive is important to us. We are listening … an example of this is our withdrawal of an application seeking a 24-hour operating licence.”
The spokesman said operating procedures were designed to minimise litter.
Cleanaway also employed a full-time rubbish picker to pick up wind-blown debris and had recently contracted Activ, a disability employment agency, to provide a regular rubbish pick-up service.
Stormwater runoff from the site sometimes occurred after extreme rainfall but short term improvements were recently made to stormwater management onsite and in consultation with the government in relation to the water coming from the adjoining conservation park.
An additional long-term engineering solution was being developed and monitoring was in place.
The spokesman said dust was also monitored to ensure the safety of staff and surrounds. A water spray truck operated full-time during the dry season and windy periods, with extra trucks available when needed. Operational waste cells were covered at night.
A Department of Water and Environmental Regulation spokeswoman said if approved, the process would be subject to “the same rigorous assessment and monitoring as other tailing storage facilities”.
The community group met with advisers to Environment Minister Stephen Dawson on Monday to communicate their concerns.
Emma Young covers breaking news with a focus on science and environment, health and social justice for WAtoday.