Sewage scapegoat saga

A “puff piece report” has blamed Logan City for failing to communicate crucial data it claims would have helped detect a 450 million litre sewage spill.

But mayor Jon Raven has defended Logan and slammed the Gold Coast council CEO for trying to “shift the blame”.

A Gold Coast council-commissioned, outsourced investigation into the Stapylton spill, which leaked around five million litres of raw sewage into the Albert River every day over a three-month period, found Logan council failed to report a “significant change” in sewage flow.

The pipe that burst runs through Stapylton, Yatala and Ormeau, and into Logan to the Beenleigh wastewater treatment plant.

Gold Coast CEO Tim Baker welcomed the report and its findings.

But Cr Raven said council provided the Gold Coast with all the data Logan had access to.

“In Logan, we have a state-of-the-art water situation room where we can monitor our entire network live,” Cr Raven said.

“And we provide all of that data in real time to the Gold Coast.

“The CEO of the Gold Coast knows exactly what Logan knows, when we know it.”

He said the Gold Coast paid Logan council to provide them with information from the Beenleigh plant.

“We assume that they know how to use that information to manage their sewer network properly,” Cr Raven said.

He said it was disappointing that Mr Baker “paid for a puff piece report”.

“Instead of waiting for the Department of Environment, Science and Innovation (DESI) investigation to complete, so that he could try and shift the blame away from himself instead of just taking responsibility, admitting that he dropped the ball, and getting on with fixing it,” Cr Raven said.

The investigation looked into two main issues: why the sewer main broke and why the spill went undetected for three months.

The investigation determined the leak went unnoticed because Gold Coast council, the owner of the pipe, was too dependent on members of the public and council staff reporting breaks.

The report also blamed Logan City council for not communicating “significantly lower flows” that were monitored at the Beenleigh treatment plant.

“The reasons for this have not been determined,” the report said.

“Logan City council were invited to participate in the investigation; this report has been published without receiving their response.”

Council hasn’t said why it didn’t participate in the Gold Coast investigation, but a spokesperson said it was currently partaking in the DESI investigation.

“We are aware the [DESI] has commenced a formal investigation into the spill,” the Logan council spokesperson said.

“We have been and will continue to fully participate in the investigation.”

DESI is investigating Gold Coast council for what it has labelled a “catastrophic failure”.

Department regulators are examining the extent of environmental harm “caused by council”, the timeliness of council’s notification of the health risks, and council’s culpability in the management of its sewage collection network.

The department said this could result in enforcement action against Gold Coast council, including a statutory notice and prosecution.

The report’s recommendations include Gold Coast council:

  • improving its technology and instrumentation to detect flows and breaks, including at the Beenleigh plant;
  • reviewing the condition of pipes installed in the same period;
  • and revising its arrangement with Logan City Council to ensure both parties “communicate with each other when a significant change is observed”.

As for why the pipe broke, the report found external corrosion, the material of pipe used, and the omission of a specific wrapping when the pipe was installed in 2005 all contributed to the pipe breaking at a paddock in Stapylton in early January.

The spill wasn’t discovered until April and wasn’t made public until days later.

Shortly afterwards, prawn farms along the Logan and Albert rivers were told to stop production and anglers warned against eating any catches over fears of contamination.

In early May, the closed prawn farms were given approval to resume operations by the state’s food-regulation agency, Safe Food Production Queensland.

By early June, both rivers were also cleared for seafood consumption.



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