Town council's 'regional' landfill: cart before the horse?


[The report below the updates brings together all reports prior to July 19.]
UPDATE 1pm July 23: Rob Kendrick, from the Department of Local Government, said today the Alice Springs Town Council will administer the construction of the facility, “a state of the art waste management center”.
He says the council will spend $768,000 in addition to Federal and NT government funds (see below).
Although Mr Kendrick says the new dump will “service the region for the next 30 years” he does not make reference to suggestions by the town council that rubbish will be transported to the town from centers throughout the southern half of the Northern Territory.
Neither does Mr Kendrick make comment to the reaction from the two shires surrounding Alice Springs, MacDonnell and Central Desert, which would be the sources of the rubbish.
He says the facility will be “economically viable and environmentally sustainable”.
The council’s application for the funding is “commercial-in-confidence [but] can be provided at the discretion” of the council.
UPDATE 5pm July 19: A spokesperson from the Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport said this afternoon: “The Alice Springs Regional Waste Management Centre was funded through the Regional Development Australia Fund, round one. The department understands the project is tracking well and first payment of the Australian Government’s overall contribution of $3.5 million has been recently made to the Alice Springs Council.”
The department declined to provide the Alice Springs News Online with a copy of the town council’s funding application.
UPDATE 8pm July 19: The Alice Springs Town Council’s Director Technical Services Greg Buxton provided the following statement: “The $5m upgrade is for the provision of new infrastructure, as shown on the drawing in your article. It is for the existing landfill site owned and controlled by the Alice Springs Town Council (ASTC).
“The existing facility is not a Regional Landfill.
“Council has had very preliminary discussions with the NT Government (NTG) in regard to the block of land at the back of our existing facility, which would enable ASTC to expand the life of the existing facility by approx 50 years.
“In line with these discussion, the proposal includes an ability to offer the NTG a facility that could service the Central Australian region.
“If these discussion prove fruitful, and in line with the aspirations of the Local Government Regional Management plan, discussions with all concerned parties (including the Shires), will take place in regard to any feasibility and schematic design plans.
“At this stage those discussion are a bit premature.”
The Town Council’s plans for a $5m upgrade of the tip, turning it into a “regional” landfill servicing the southern half of the Territory, is showing troubling signs of putting the cart before the horse.
All centers which would be carting rubbish to Alice Springs would be in one of the two shires south of Tennant Creek.
MacDonnell Shire CEO Diane Hood says while there are talks about a regional waste management action plan “this has not yet been discussed in any detail” and “no budget has been assigned for this purpose as it will form part of future discussions”.
And Roydon Robertson, CEO of the Central Desert Shire, said when asked for a comment: “I don’t know anything about this story. I doubt its accuracy.”
Prominent councillor Steve Brown says the dump and the adjacent sewage treatment plant, run by the NT Government’s Power & Water, should be moved from their present location where they are a smelling eyesore in the iconic Gap, the entrance to the tourist Mecca Alice Springs wants to be.
Under the proposal communities such as Docker River and Lake Nash would have round-trips of 1500 kms to deliver their garbage.
The scheme is reminiscent of the Alice town council’s $850,000 glass crusher, which can meet the town’s estimated annual requirement in just four days, and which seems to have been bought for no reason other than the availability of a grant from the NT Government.
The Town Council’s Director Technical Services Greg Buxton last week described the proposed facility as being for all Territory communities south of Tennant Creek to dispose of their rubbish – including household garbage – in an “environmentally friendly” fashion and in “strict compliance” with the requirements of the Territory’s Environmental Protection Authority.
At the moment there are only two licensed landfills in the region, Alice Springs and Ayers Rock Resort.
Landfills in communities with populations of less than 1000 people are not required to be licensed, but their tips need to comply with the Waste Management and Pollution Control Act and other regulations (see, for example, the Central Desert Shire’s Waste Management Strategy).
Mr Buxton says the upgrading of the tip will also bring up to speed that part of the landfill which is used by the population of Alice Springs.
He says, for example, the weighbridge is nearly 30 years old and “struggles to comply with Commonwealth weight and measures legislation”.
The council is hoping to obtain at no cost land to the west of the present site from Power and Water, which also owns the sewage ponds adjacent to the tip.
 The ponds land is freehold and not encumbered by native title, but the land on which the council has its eye would require an Indigenous Land Use Agreement with the native title body Lhere Artepe.
Mr Buxton says the existing landfill will be adequate for another 15 to 18 years, after which the dump will need to be moved or further expanded to the west. That will extend its service for 50 years.
This would mean the landfill would extend about two kilometers from the highway, but not further west than the sewage ponds.
Mr Buxton says servicing remote communities would increase the volume of garbage by only about 20%: Alice Springs has a population of some 30,000 and there are about 6000 people in the region.
Mayor Damien Ryan says the project – announced with fanfare last year – will be using $3.5m in Federal money from Regional Development Australia (RDA), and $775,000 from the NT Government.
He says there will be major changes to the landfill for local users, better opportunities for recycling and a “save and salvage” store.
“The public won’t need to go to the tip face any more,” he says.
Mr Ryan is the chairman of RDA in the Northern Territory.
He says over two years Federal Minister for Regional Australia Simon Crean approved projects worth $14.25m in the NT. This includes the landfill in Alice; the remainder are in Darwin, including $7.5m for the Michael Long Leadership & Training Centre announced last week.
Cr Brown says the landfill should be moved now, with just a transfer station, where people can drop off their rubbish, remaining in the present location.
He says it is “disgraceful and short-sighted” to have the landfill and the sewage treatment works – which should also be relocated – at the iconic entrance to the town.
“This is prime real estate for hotels and other facilities for visitors,” he says.
“The Ilparpa Valley and the southern flank of the MacDonnell Ranges are among our greatest assets.”
Cr Brown, who gained the highest number of councillor votes in the recent elections, says he will spend a great deal of effort during his term on the council pushing for the relocation.
He says for years the government refused to move the power station from the middle of town to Brewer Estate, but in the end it “had to be done”.
With the development of Kilgariff, the Blatherskite Park area will be much closer to the center of the town, he says.
Ms Hood, responding to questions from the Alice Springs News Online, said: “Our tips are all for less than 1000 population and as such do not need to be licensed (or meet the conditions attached to licensing).
“That said, we do adhere to the requirements in the Regional Management Plan and Local Government Act.
“MacDonnell Shire Council also has documented Waste Management Guidelines which have been derived from the Waste Management Guidelines for Small Communities in the NT, developed by the Local Government Association of the Northern Territory (LGANT) in 2009.
“The information included in the guidelines focuses on improving the delivery of waste management services for all communities in the Shire, for example reducing the hazards associated with waste in small communities and working towards improved environmental management of waste.
“We are continuing to work with other councils, LGANT and government agencies to develop more strategic plans to guide the future direction of waste management in Central Australia.
“The current draft Regional Management Plan has a goal to jointly identify areas of waste management [where] cost, compliance and effectiveness can be improved through a regional waste management action plan,” says Ms Hood.
“However this has not yet been discussed in any detail nor have the areas been identified at this time.
“We understand that Mr Buxton’s comments relate to a possible outcome of the Regional Management Plan.
“As such, no budget has been assigned for this purpose as it will form part of future discussions.
“We look forward to discussing relevant areas for regional improvement and identifying where cost, compliance and effectiveness can be improved.”
IMAGES: Sketch of the entrance of the proposed upgraded landfill. • The dump (centre of the photo) is a blight on the beautiful Ilparpa Valley, says Cr Steve Brown.


  1. Out of interest, what alternative sites are suitable and possible for a relocated rubbish dump / tip?
    This tip would have to be not too much further out of town. If Tennant Creek is to share then perhaps the dump should be built to the north of town?
    But where, it needs to be far enough from residents so that no one can complain about the smell.
    [ED – One idea is to have a collection point, where we can drop off our rubbish, close to town, but the tip itself well away from the town and its beauty spots.]

  2. Erwin, I think you and Council have both contributed to muddying the waters. The public money grant is to spend far too much money with “shop front infrastructure” for the dump. Nothing at all to do with any bizarre plan as a regional repository, or Council’s ongoing lip service to make a “silk purse from a sow’s ear”. I made a similar comment on your pages some time ago. Council are helping to confuse people with their constant use of hi-faloutin terms for what still is a dump. Landfill is a process that they have never understood. I guess its a case of “we’ll call it a ‘silk purse’ anyway”.
    Properly managed dumps will seldom smell. What we still have is a “shit tip”, run by the same people who ordered the “Emperor’s new clothes”!
    [Hi Rod … thanks for your comment. But in what way did the Alice News muddy the waters? We reported what we were told by council, shire and government officials, or facts we could obtain by research, bringing these matters before the public. That’s our job.]

  3. Your very first line! From a reader’s perspective, the differentiation between the RDA money, and what it’s not being spent on, has been far from clear. While I’m no fan of any Council Officer, I thought Greg Buxton’s (later?) statement was quite succinct for once. The RDA money, as I pointed out already in the earlier article, will do nothing to change the legacy of a sow’s ear that successive Councils are leaving the Community in perpetuity. No “upgrading” of the tip is within Council’s capability going by its track record. A flash roof on doesn’t compensate for poor, or indeed no, foundations. I’ve been saying this since 1980; one day the penny will drop, but the longer it takes, all the more damage to deal with. (You have never researched me.)
    [ED – Hi Rod, apologies, there are about 25,000 other people in Alice Springs I haven’t researched on on this story.]

  4. As a frequent flyer at the bower bird tip shop I was extremely disappointed to see the effort that Subloos made at having a tipshop, what a joke. When the council took over it looked like the good old days were returning. No such luck. It looked good for a while but has turned into a similar joke to Subloos’ effort. Surely people are still disposing of recyclable stuff. The council workers need to bring it down to the tip shop or get some training from those who worked at the original tip shop. Recycling is the way to go. Bring back the bower bird crew.


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