QUEANBEYAN City Council has been ordered to pay a total of $424,189 in penalties and costs after being convicted in the Land and Environment Court of polluting the Queanbeyan River.
The matter relates to the release of about 1.5 million litres of sewage into the Queanbeyan River, Molonglo River and Lake Burley Griffin in November 2007 after the pumping station at Morriset and Wanniassa Street failed.
The council was prosecuted by the Environmental Protection Authority and pleaded guilty to the pollution of water under section 120 of the Protection of the Environment Operation Act 1997.
The council was fined $80,000 for the charge, ordered to pay $343,000 for the prosecutor's costs and the EPA's investigative costs and expenses of $1189.
Justice Rachel Pepper said the fine should go to an environmental project. It will be used by the Murrumbidgee Catchment Management Authority to fund the Numeralla East Landscape Project. In August, the EPA stated the maximum penalty for the charge was a fine up to $1 million.
At the time, QCC general manager Gary Chapman had estimated the fine would be in the "ten of thousands". Mr Chapman assured ratepayers would not be affected.
"The penalty imposed by the EPA will not have an impact on Queanbeyan's ratepayers as Council has $23 million in its sewer fund where the penalty will be paid from," he said.
"The sewage spill on 5 November 2007 had minimal impact on the environment. The spill was caused by the old Morisset St Pumping Station malfunctioning. The telemetry system (when in alarm mode) failed to send a text message to on-call staff due to Telstra altering its SMS protocols without advising Council.
"Following the 2007 incident Council built a $9 million state-of-the-art sewage pumping station which was opened in 2009. The old station was decommissioned."
The council were also ordered to publish public notices in the Queanbeyan Age, Canberra Times and Sydney Morning Herald within three weeks of the judgement.
EPA Chief Environmental Regulator Mark Gifford said in a statement the outcome was positive, but avoiding such environmental pollution would have been far preferable.
"Managing sewage infrastructure is a critical role in any society and today's verdict sends a clear message to Queanbeyan City Council about their environmental responsibilities,"
Mr Gifford said. "The release of one million litres of sewage has the potential to harm public health and the environment, and the EPA has a duty of care to vigorously pursue such offences.”