29 November 2022

Snow resort fined more than $200k after 11.5 million litres of partially treated sewage sent into river

| Claire Fenwicke
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The resort admitted to polluting a river with partially treated sewage in Kosciuszko National Park. Photo: Charlotte Pass Snow Resort, Facebook.

Charlotte Pass Snow Resort has been ordered to pay more than $200,000 after admitting more than 11.5 million litres of partially treated sewage was discharged from its treatment plant into a nearby river.

It pleaded guilty in the NSW Land and Environment Court to polluting the waters of Spencers Creek over 78 days between 9 July and 24 September, 2019, as well as failing to properly maintain systems in its sewage treatment plant (STP) which led to the pollution.

“The defendant failed to maintain the diffusers installed in aeration tanks … of the STP in a proper and efficient condition, in that they were not maintained in such a condition that they were able to efficiently transfer oxygen through the effluent in the aeration tanks,” court documents showed.

The diffusers allowed for proper treatment of the sewage.

The discharged effluent contained levels of ammonia and total nitrogen which breached licensing conditions, and could have potentially damaged the environment.

The original STP was installed in the mid to late 1980s, and was designed to treat sewage from an estimated population of 1117 people.

Charlotte Pass knew there were components of the STP which needed to be repaired, noting in its 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 Environmental Work Plans that an aeration pipeline between two tanks, the diffusers and the control valves “required replacement as a matter of high priority”.

“The 2020 Environmental Work Plan expressly stated that Charlotte Pass needed to ‘replace all diffusers as the required oxygen levels cannot be currently achieved’,” court documents stated.

Another report found the diffusers had not been replaced in more than nine years, even though suppliers only gave a six-year guarantee.

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In her judgement, Justice Rachel Pepper said testing of the water had found at one point the concentration of ammonia from the tributary downstream of the STP was “more than 600 times greater” than the concentration of ammonia upstream.

She said while no “acute toxicity” was seen in the larvel fish, bacterium or micro crustacean in samples collected, there was still a chance of damage to the environment.

“Discharging effluent to receiving waters can cause damage to the aquatic biota,” Justice Pepper said.

“There can be no doubt that the commission of the pollution offence also caused potential harm to the environment, although not to any substantial degree.”

She ordered the resort to pay a $144,000 fine, plus $89,425.23 in costs to the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA).

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NSW EPA CEO Tony Chappel said residents of Kosciuszko National Park were expected to meet the “highest standards”.

“With wild rivers and mountains, this is a special place and the resort should have taken more care to protect it,” he said.

“Most disappointingly, the offences were foreseeable, with the resort having knowledge that the plant and equipment in question needed to be repaired.

“If you know that your equipment doesn’t meet the standards required, it must be addressed, failure to do so is an unacceptable disregard of the environment.”

Since it was charged, Charlotte Pass Snow Resort has amended its Pollution Incident Response Management Plan and replaced the STP’s diffusers, along with upgrading the aeration system and heating pipework before the 2020 snow season.

A Charlotte Pass Snow Resort spokesperson said the organisation strived to achieve a “sustainable balance” between protection and maintenance of the environment, noting it was the one who let the EPA know it had become aware of elevated ammonia concentrations during routine testing.

“On 5 July 2019 Charlotte Pass notified the EPA that the ammonia levels at the STP were above normal levels … Charlotte Pass engaged a contractor to remove raw effluent from the STP and transport it by truck away from the resort, making every attempt to avoid having to discharge into the environment,” they said.

“This only ceased on 10 July 2019 as the weather conditions deteriorated and safe road access was no longer possible to the resort. As Charlotte Pass Snow Resort is completely snowbound during winter months, this severely limited the options available to it.”

The spokesperson also pointed out the judge had acknowledge the resort’s assistance to the EPA during its investigation and prosecution of the offences.

“The judge also ruled that Charlotte Pass was of good character, has demonstrated genuine contrition and remorse, and has put measures in place to prevent similar future offending,” they said.

“Charlotte Pass Snow Resort is committed to continually improve its environmental management performance and reduce its impacts on the environment.”

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