Bundaberg Rum project delayed by asbestos discovery
A RIVERBANK stabilisation project on Bundaberg Rum land has gone up in price and suffered significant delays after on-site excavations led to the discovery of asbestos.
The Gabion Wall Project, tasked with stabilising the riverbank and reducing erosion on the eastern side of the Burnett River, was approved late last year after the rum giant noticed movement underneath some of its assets.
Rubble from the 1936 Bundaberg Distillery fire, contaminated with asbestos, was uncovered shortly after the works for the gabion rock wall's footings began.
A Bundaberg Distilling spokesperson said soil samples taken before the project kicked off did not signal that asbestos was present.
"Even the geotechnical bore holes dug around the site to sample the soil did not alert us to asbestos," she told the NewsMail.
She added Bundaberg Distilling Company had not encountered rubble from the fire during previous upgrades.
"We had no reason to believe this excavation work would be any different. Reports from initial core soil sampling at multiple points along the riverbank did not show asbestos and our expectation based on this was that the soil and rock being removed to allow placement of the rock gabion wall would be just that, soil and rock."
Bundaberg Distilling told the NewsMail the relevant government departments and asbestos experts were contacted immediately after the discovery, prompting all work at the site to be put on hold.
"We were diligent in ensuring these regulations were followed," the spokesperson said.
Compliance of these conditions is enforced by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.
Since the discovery, concerns for the safety of the community have been raised with Bundaberg Rum, with fears the now-exposed asbestos could contaminate waterways.
The company has assured the NewsMail the site has been made safe while experts assess how to remove the asbestos and ensure the safety of staff and the community.
The spokesperson confirmed the river stabilisation project would restart once the asbestos was removed and safely disposed of at a government-regulated facility, with the gabion rock wall's completion date pencilled in for late November.
"Significant additional costs have been incurred," she said.
Bundaberg Regional Council is aware of the issue and has stressed "the removal of contaminated materials must comply with the Environmental Protection (Waste Management) Regulation 2000".
An Environmental Impact Study carried out by structural and geotechnical engineers was completed prior to council approving the application.
The analysis concluded a gabion rock wall (rows of rocks bound by metal cages, stacked on top of each other) was the best option available to stabilise the riverbank and prevent further erosion.
Before approving the works, the Department of State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning imposed a number of conditions should council allow the project to go ahead.
These focussed specifically on safeguarding Bundaberg's waterways by ensuring any spoils (materials dug up but not suitable for the gabion rock wall) will not be disposed of on tidal lands or within waterways.
A council spokesperson said: "State agency approval conditions directed that uncontaminated spoil taken from the works be disposed of on site".
According to project plans, the spoils will be deposited in a large, recently-dug hole toward the northern end of the work site.
Labelled as the Builders Laydown and Storage Area throughout the plans, the hole for the spoils in located at the entrance to an eastern floodplain.
Concerns the hole, once full, could increase land levels and cause a block in the event of another flood event, have been flagged with the Bundaberg Distilling Company.
"We're aware it's (the hole) is in a floodplain ... But the land levels will not be changed by this project," a spokesperson said.
"The spoils in this case are simply soil and rock that was unsuitable to be used as engineered fill behind the rock wall and are common to the area."
The council confirmed the works would "not produce measurable changes to flood characteristics", as was assessed before approval.
"State agency approval conditions directed that uncontaminated spoil taken from the works be disposed of on site," a council spokesperson concluded.
The area where asbestos was found is not accessible to the public. Signage has been installed to warn of the presence of the material.