Roadworks undertaken in Eden from 10-11 June by a company contracted by Bega Valley Shire Council has resulted in property damage as corrosive lime settled on cars and roofs along Mitchell and Calle Calle streets.
Sylvia Anderson lives midway down one of the streets impacted by the lime plume and works in construction herself.
“What happens when you’re building a road is that a machine goes along and churns up the soil and spreads quicklime, and then a truck comes along and waters it,” she said.
“But if you put too much water on, it can explode and that’s what happened.
“There was a vigorous reaction and two big plumes – it looked like an atomic bomb. People who were in their yards at the time said their eyes and skin were burning.”
As the lime dust settled, around 40 residents noticed its corrosive effects on their cars, house roofs and other belongings.
“The lime leaves a sticky residue that is very hard to get off,” said Ms Anderson. “Even after we got 350ml of rain during the past few weeks, there are big clumps of it on our roofs. It eats through anything metal.”
A statement issued by Bega Valley Shire Council on 10 August acknowledges the damage and says it will not accept liability.
“Given that council engaged an expert third-party contractor to carry out these roadworks on behalf of the community, we will not be accepting liability for any negative impacts,” said the statement.
Senior staff and councillors have met with concerned residents twice since the incident and the statement says they will continue to work with residents to resolve the issue.
“We will continue to engage with residents as they seek to address any impacts on their property as a result of the lime dust,” said the statement.
“On notification of the incident, council offered a limited cleaning service provided by a contractor to residents who raised concerns early about lime dust that had settled on their property. Council also provided advice to those who wished to undertake the necessary cleaning work themselves.”
Council wants to reassure residents that those who accepted the cleaning services are not restricted in any future action to seek compensation through their insurance company.
“The deed of release signed as part of the cleaning work is limited to the cleaning work and not the impacts of the lime dust cloud,” said the statement.
Ms Anderson said she and other residents on the affected streets are still hoping for “action and answers” from the council, which has advised residents they should seek help from their own insurance companies.
“We have provided the contact details of the contractor to interested residents so their own insurance company can seek compensation,” said the council’s statement.
“We have advised the road works contractor that they should work with their insurer in the best interests of the Eden community. Council’s insurance company, Statewide Mutual, is playing a cooperative role in the process.”
If the implicated insurance companies cannot settle, a class-action lawsuit is a possibility and Ms Anderson said she has already spoken to law firm Slater and Gordon, which advised her that the combined damages must be greater than $250,000 for that to proceed.
“I think we’re going to get it over the line, too,” said Ms Anderson. “We’re not going to back down. This is unnecessary damage and we don’t deserve that after everything else this town has gone through.”
The council’s statement addresses these concerns.
“This situation comes at a time of great community stress and the council regrets the added weight this may cause some residents,” it said.
“We are confident that our processes prior to these works being carried out will help bring about a resolution now that problems have emerged.”