Candid Discussion

IF there is one thing residents, Thomas Foods International (TFI), the Murray  Bridge council and the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) can agree on, it is that there is a definite smell hanging over Murray Bridge and something needs to be done to rectify the problem.

The groups came together on Monday night at a community meeting at the Murray Bridge Town Hall to discuss the smell that has made life difficult for residents along Mannum Road since TFI began transferring wastewater to its effluent treatment facility in November 2012.

Mannum Road resident Ceri Johns said it was time that communication  about the odour improved and the Chinese whispers stopped.

“We need to work together to get the outcome we all want - no odour,” she said.

“I thought it (the meeting) was really positive - I am happy with the way people were willing to stand up and voice their concerns ... it was good so many people expressed concerns about public health.

“I was happy with the response from the EPA and council as they seem to be listening to us and it makes us feel there is some control and checks and balances happening.

“I am not happy with the fact that we will have to endure the odour for some time longer.”

During the meeting, TFI group operations manager Dave McKay said the company was doing all it could to end the odour problems but it would take until at least April before the commissioning process was complete.

“We’ve spent a considerable amount of money on the problem, we have sat and made a commitment to the community tonight and we will try different angles and options to move forward,” he said.

“We all want the same thing.

“Your message has got through and each (official) body has told us we need to get on our bikes and fix things - they have flown the flag for residents.”

When the 100-strong audience was given the floor, the questions focused strongly on health implications, how long it would be before residents got their promised outcome of no odour and whether residents could expect compensation for their inconvenience, especially increased electricity costs from having to run clothes dryers and air conditioners year round.

Mr McKay said he could not speak about health concerns as he was not a doctor, but extensive research did not show any evidence of a link between effluent ponds and health problems.

“Our compensation is to continue to invest, to stay in this community and build trust,” he said.

Murray Bridge council sustainable communities general manager Andrew Meddle said the meeting had provided the council with a better understanding of issues facing residents.

“It has been interesting to be involved and see the depth of feeling,” he said.

“We are committed to work this through and to getting the best outcome - no odour.

“We will work with TFI and the EPA to achieve that.”

EPA spokesperson Andrew Wood said the organisation was concerned about the odour since operations at the ponds began. “It wasn’t long before we started getting complaints from residents and we set up a hot line,” he said.

“In my experience I have never seen a hot line that had so many calls.

“In 2013 we set up an environmental protection order and things started to improve over the winter.

“On September 12, complaints began again and we attended the sites and homes and noticed a particularly strong odour again.”

Mr Wood said the EPA believed the odour had returned as a result of a shutdown and restart.

He said since September the smell had improved, but the EPA wanted to see improvement in the long term.

“We’ve had several conversations with TFI,” he said. “We think putting in another environmental protection order would not help.

“We are going to modify TFI’s licence with stronger requirement - increased monitoring and reporting to the EPA among the conditions.

“Then if these licence conditions are not met there will be swift action taken.”

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