By Raquel Mustillo
PLANS to develop the Millicent Railway Lands has been mothballed as Wattle Range Council estimates potential investigation costs will hit $450,000 to address soil contamination issues at the site.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, elected members backed a staff recommendation to no longer pursue council’s action to procure, rehabilitate and develop the railway lands precinct, with officers warning almost $100,000 has been spent on reports of the site, saying the expenditure was a “only the start of the likely cost”.
According to engineering services director Peter Halton, an initial assessment detailed a number of potential soil contamination present at the State Government-owned sites and further identified the potential for groundwater contamination.
Mr Halton said officers had become increasingly concerned with costs and timeframes to meet the council’s endorsed plan to develop the site and questioned “whether council still has an appetite for this project”.
He said council was still some way from finalising the project and raised a long-term liability with ground water contamination and the time frame required to complete the project.
“Officers are very concerned that the remainder of the site is likely to identify some major challenges and timeframes and costs of the detailed investigation and are likely to be significantly greater than the estimate,” he said.
“Officers think the better option is to allow the state to consider the selling [the land] and council get out of the way of this proposal and allow the market to determine if this is viable. “In terms of the rail corridor… council could consider a licence with the State Government similar to that being considered for the Coonawarra Rail Trail.”
Mr Halton said the potential remediation costs have been identified to be in the order of $450,000, but said the report detailed a number of exclusions to the estimated costs – including a purchase price – which will not be known until a detailed investigation and auditing is complete.
He said council has appointed an auditor to complete a third-party assessment and had directed additional ground water testing and water sampling of the drain to establish if this is impacting on ground water results, which had been completed at an additional cost of $10,850.
“It should be noted that the auditor has made further recommendations to allow the final sign off of the document,” Mr Halton said.
“However these are on hold as the officer is concerned that council is on a slippery slope to major cost and time blowouts and also transferring long-term liabilities to council should it proceed with the strategic action.”
Councillor Dean Burrow expressed disappointment council had undertaken extensive investigative efforts and placed the final transfer of land on hold.
“We have spent a lot of money to find out that government land is contaminated,” he said.
“To me, it seems terrible that the State Govenrment has left Millicent with polluted land in the middle of town.
“I think they should be responsible and clean it up as it is an eyesore.”
But Corcoran Ward councillor Graham Slarks said he did not believe funds were wasted on investigating the site, praising staff for their efforts.
“I think the money has been well spent and I think has progressed the site,” he said. “If we hadn’t done anything, they land would sit there for the next 20 to 30 years. “If we are to fix up the railway corridor, that could attract developers to look at the old soccer field land. “If we do nothing, it is just going to sit there and it is an unattractive hole in the town.”