Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has been awarded $4.5 million in costs against a mysterious company over the dumping of an estimated 1 million tyres on a regional property.
The Supreme Court ordered Internet Marketing Solutions Corp (IMSC) to make the payment after the agency stepped in to remove the stockpile of tyres.
According to Dr Cathy Wilkinson, the EPA’s chief executive, both the EPA and the Country Fire Authority (CFA) issued notices demanding that the company address the fire risk presented by the tyres.
“The EPA notices required the owner of the stockpile to reduce the risk of fire at the site and to segregate tyres into smaller piles. By not complying with these requirements, EPA believed the stockpile appeared to have been abandoned or was being handled in a manner that was likely to cause an environmental hazard,” Dr Wilkinson said.
“Tyres are made of compounds that can cause rapid combustion, including carbon, oil, benzene, toluene, rubber and sulphur. The risk in Stawell was compounded by size and configuration of the stockpile,” Dr Wilkinson said.
“In the event of a fire at the stockpile, we would have likely seen 7,000 people evacuated from Stawell. A fire would also have impacted on the brand of Grampians tourism in areas such as the Great Western, Pyrenees and Grampians wine regions.”
According to Dr Wilkinson, the cleanup required a “whole-of-government approach”, involving 40 agencies including the local council, police, the CFA and a number of government departments and agencies – a process that began on 9 August 2017.
A video created by the EPA as a means of community engagement over the matter said the nine-week program saw the removal of 9,500 tonnes of tyres, almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of which were recycled.
“Under EPA regulations, businesses that store more than 40 tonnes or 5,000 EPUs must obtain a works approval before a facility is built as well as an EPA licence to operate. Sites above the threshold may be issued with remedial notices by EPA, requiring them to reduce their stockpiles to below 5,000 EPU and, if applicable, modify stockpile arrangement due to fire risks,” Dr Wilkinson said.
“Those that do not comply with the guidelines can expect EPA to use the full force of its powers to address environmental and public health risk from illegally stored tyre stockpiles and to seek to recover any costs incurred if EPA steps in to remove the potential environmental hazard.”
It is not immediately clear what a company which, by its name, is involved in online marketing was doing with a stash of 1 million tyres.
Adding further weight to the mystery is that IMSC is reportedly a Panama-based company.
Fairfax Media reported at the time the cleanup began that the stockpile was actually composed of around 9 million tyres – rather than the 1 million quoted by the EPA – and that it amounted to one of the world’s largest tyre stockpiles.
“A shadowy offshore internet marketing company based in the tax haven of Panama now has control of a toxic dump of 9 million used tyres considered a huge fire risk in the state's west,” The Age reported in August last year.
“The notorious Stawell tyre stockpile, one of the world’s biggest, has largely sat dormant for nearly a decade, despite major environmental concerns and repeated orders for it to be cleaned up.”
It also reported that there was no Australian address or ACN attached to the land title, and that the company had been registered in a manner to keep the identity of its shareholders secret.
No record of the company could be found on ASIC's register of business names as of 30 October 2018, although there are records of more than two dozen companies with similar names.
In addition to the awarding of costs, the EPA successfully secured an injunction on the company to prevent it from selling the property.
Dr Wilkinson said the ruling “is EPA’s first step in the process of recovering the costs that were incurred in removing the huge tyre stockpile”, which she said had posed “a great human health and environmental risk to Stawell and its surrounding communities”.
A spokesperson for the agency declined to comment any further on the matter, given the still ongoing legal situation.
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