• Tony Bosworth

“Thin end of the wedge” – if Freemans Reach sand quarry goes ahead, fears sand mining could spread

“It’s the thin edge of the wedge,” says one opponent of a proposed major sand quarrying operation - on what is currently Freemans Reach turf farmland – if it gets the go-ahead on May 24 when the project goes before the Sydney Western City Planning Panel.

The proposal – put forward by turf farm owner Anthony Muscat who operates under Greener Lawn Supplies – has been given a firm thumbs down by Hawkesbury Council so this month it goes before the Planning Panel who can give it the go-ahead or bring it to a halt on May 24.

The proposal would see 70,000 tonnes of sand a year dug up on a new quarry bordered by the Hawkesbury River and Freemans Reach Road just up from the Gorricks Lane roundabout.

The plan is for a 10-year quarrying operation - so a total of 700,000 tonnes would be trucked out of the area using around six to eight truck loads a day, potentially six days a week.

The proposal originally came up in 2018 and was first objected to by Hawkesbury councillors back in February 2019 when Greens councillor Danielle Wheeler, seconded by now Deputy-Mayor Mary Lyons-Buckett, put up a Motion to reaffirm Council’s objections to any new sand mining in the local government area. All councillors supported the Motion.

The new quarry - if granted permission - will operate across portions of 374, 395 and 415 Freemans Reach Road, cover 6.5 hectares (16 acres) and be operated by Greener Valley Sands, a new company set up by Mr Muscat and his family.

Staunch opponent of the proposed quarry, local resident Sue Gleeson, has followed the plan from the start and she says allowing the sand quarry would be “the thin edge of the wedge”.

“In the early documents it was noted that some of the neighbours [other turf farmers] said they expressed an interest too,” Ms Gleeson says.

“This approval is pivotal. Sand deposits in the Hawkesbury are well documented. If this goes ahead there would be little to stop other potential quarries springing up.”

Ms Gleeson says there are also issues around floods – which devastated this very area during the recent flood emergency – and the fact the operation would be pulling what she claims is a large amount of water from the Hawkesbury River.

Mr Muscat disputes that and says they will not be using any water from the river at all, but rather will be drawing groundwater for all the quarry’s operations.

There would be a 40 metre setback – or gap – between the sand mining operation and the actual riverbank, though during the recent floods this very area was completely under water.

“And then there are the trucks,” says Ms Gleeson.

“Up at Tinda Creek at Colo Heights [a separate unconnected sand mining operation] trucks are on the road by 5.30am. They aren’t supposed to be running until 7am, but they are on the road much earlier than that,” she said.

Hawkesbury Council’s assessment of the proposed sand mining was damning - there were also just over 120 submissions to Council during the public consultation period, most of them against the proposed operation.

Council staff carried out an investigation into the proposal and reported concerns about what they see as inappropriate use of agricultural land, the precedent it would set for other sand mining operations, plus issues around potential impacts on flora and fauna, as well as the quarry’s impact on key fish habitat, says the Council report.

Council say there are also potential impacts on Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal heritage, and the “potential contamination of groundwater, wetlands, watercourses and drinking water”.

Environmental damage during a flood event like the one we have recently seen, increases in traffic in the local area, and deterioration of local roads, are all cited as further issues by Council.

The Development Application, which covers an area of about 6.5 hectares (16 acres) currently used for turf farming, sees the operation within the southernmost part of the site, on the northern side of the Hawkesbury River. No more than 1.53 hectares would be an open pit at any one time.

Hours of operation would be Monday to Friday 7am – 7pm. Saturday 7am – 3:30pm. Sunday and public holidays: no work.

Mr Muscat told the Post on Friday, they had 600m of riverbank which meant the sand on the property was of a very high quality, so much so it actually wasn’t good agricultural land.

“It is very poor agricultural land, very sandy. We have to use a lot of fertiliser and some of the land is just not useable at all,” Mr Muscat said.

“We've tested the sand and it is very high quality, what they call concrete sand, it’s quality sand. We will screen and wash the sand on site.

“We will take 100mm of topsoil and keep that and then dig 10 to 12 metres deep of sand.

“When we have finished we will remediate and put the topsoil back, and we are not digging the entire site at once, we will dig a bit less than two hectares at a time and then rehabilitate that.

“We will rejuvenate the soil and it will be returned to agricultural land, and it will be better than it was before. We will then returf it.”

Mr Muscat also said Transport for NSW had no problems with the truck movements – the government body did not put in any submissions to Hawkesbury Council – and that five per cent value per tonne of sand trucked would go into Council coffers for road maintenance.

He said that trucks regularly used Freemans Reach Rd and there was little evidence that six to eight more truck loads per day would make a difference.

“We are creating jobs for the Hawkesbury and we will supply local businesses with sand. We want to keep this as a small business,” Mr Muscat said.

“We have been growing turf here for 25 years and we have kept that mostly local too.

“Once the sand is taken away there is nothing left, so that is why we will rehabilitate the land.”

If granted permission to operate by the Planning Panel, the company will initially employ four full-time workers, and erect buildings and sand cleaning equipment. The initial investment revealed on the Planning Panel’s documentation is just shy of $6.5million.

“There will be a lot of locals involved using the sand to make concrete, so indirectly too this will lead to local jobs,” Mr Muscat said.

The Planning Panel are holding a teleconference where they will make a decision on Monday May 24 and you can register to listen in and also register to make comments or observations. The event is audio only.

To register, email enquiry@planningpanels@nsw.gov.au

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