Sydney tollway construction’s toxic dump sites

White Bay is a favoured construction site for the proposed Western Harbour Tunnel and Northern Beaches Link tollway.

Leaked NSW Coalition government documents reveal that White Bay in Sydney's Inner West and parks on the city’s north shore are favoured construction sites for the $14 billion Western Harbour Tunnel and Northern Beaches Link tollway.

The “Cabinet in confidence” documents, obtained by Fairfax and the ABC, show the project will require the disposal of more than 500,000 cubic metres of contaminated sediment.

The preliminary environmental study indicates planners fear widespread community opposition to the use of parks, and the disposal of contaminated sediment and soil, could delay construction. The cost and environmental impacts from handling, re-using or dumping spoil are “expected to be significant” due to the size of the project, the document says.

Other “key issues” identified in the documents are noise and dust from 24-hour work on the tunnelling sites, sleep disturbance for nearby residents, a risk of cracking to “sensitive” buildings and road congestion from the high volume of trucks involved. If northern suburbs parks are used as construction sites, there would be an estimated 60-120 truck movements a day through them.

The 14-kilometre Western Harbour Tunnel and Northern Beaches Link is essentially an extension of the infamous $18 billion WestConnex tunnel and tollways complex, beginning from the proposed WestConnex underground spaghetti junction at inner-suburban Rozelle and continuing to northern suburban Balgowlah.

Under the preferred plan, the use of large prefabricated concrete tubes for the Western Harbour Tunnel would require the bottom of the harbour between Birchgrove and Waverton to be dredged so they could be laid in a trench. The report warns that sediment from the harbour would contain a high number of contaminants.

Dredging operations are likely to generate “toxic plumes” of water in the harbour, which are certain to be highly unpopular with the community and tourists, and pose a risk to more than 70 threatened species, such as turtles and small penguins.

The most heavily contaminated rock, silt and sand may have to be incinerated or placed in landfill because “there may be no safe reuse possible,” the report reveals. Non-contaminated waste may have to be dumped out at sea, which is highly controversial as well.

Transport for NSW has recently defended bypassing usual independent reviews to fast-track $2 million in advertisements spruiking the “features and vision” of WestConnex. Senior transport bureaucrats invoked exemptions for campaigns relating “to urgent public health or safety matters” and “other urgent circumstances” in defending the adverts.

No indication was given as to what made the promotions “urgent”.

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