Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Site for waste plant was on contaminated land

EWAN LAMB examines another of the secret New Earth papers...

A "state-of-the-art" waste treatment centre capable of dealing with all of the rubbish generated in the Scottish Borders would have been constructed on contaminated land at Easter Langlee on the fringe of Galashiels.

And rival bidders for the lucrative £21 million contract on offer from Scottish Borders Council did not tell the local authority in advance that they planned to redistribute 26,000 tonnes of landfilled material to level the sloping site.

The contamination issue is dealt with in one of the six reports newly released by the council after their plea for continued secrecy in what has been dubbed the New Earth Solutions (NES) disaster was dismissed by Scotland's Information Commissioner.

At the end of the day the plan for the 'cutting edge' plant was abandoned without a single brick being laid, and £2.4 million of public money spent for absolutely no return.

According to one of the documents, it is believed NES, the successful tenderers, and the other bidder Shanks Group did not approach the relevant controlling authorities prior to tender submission to discuss the re-use of waste material on the Easter Langlee site.

The report explains that developing the new plant on top of a former landfill site would require remediation of the land to create a fit for purpose site for the proposed facility.

SLR Consulting, the environmental technical consultants commissioned by SBC - the firm would collect fees totalling £186,000 by the time the SBC/NES venture collapsed in 2015 - indicated the preferred solution for remediating the site would be to cap the existing waste material.

The development plot would then be levelled with material excavated from the road and building footprint, then pile through the former landfill site into stable ground to support the proposed building.

"SLR's estimated pass through cost to the council for capping the site and dealing with excavated waste material generated from piling, including any associated landfill tax, was in the region of £500,000", the report says.

It goes on to reveal that during the fourteen month competitive dialogue process neither bidder identified an alternative approach for creating a suitable site.

"It was only after the tenders were submitted on 17 September 2010 that the project team discovered both bidders had proposed an alternative solution for the site preparation and remediation.

"Due to sloping nature of the eastern end of the site and the restrictions caused by the 132kv set of overhead cables, the bidders are proposing to lower the level of the site by up to three metres at the western end, and use the excavated material to fill up the eastern end of the site to create a level platform.

"This approach would also allow the building sufficient vertical space to create the required roof height to accommodate the internal machinery, without encroaching within the safety exclusion zone of the 132kv overhead cables. The proposal will generate 26,000 tonnes of excavated material from the site, which NES have indicated that they will be allowed to redistribute within the site".

But the council's representatives on the project do not appear to have been entirely convinced this was the best strategy for securing a fit site.

The report states: "The project team are not fully satisfied with the information that has been supplied by the bidders to support a cut and fill option, with the material being used on site. The original ground investigation report by SLR did not fully characterise the waste present within the site, and as a result the bidders do not know what type of contamination is present across the whole site and whether it can be classified for reuse".

The seven authors of the report, which was submitted to the council's Capital Management Group, went on to say it was not believed NES or Shanks had approached the relevant "controlling bodies" prior to tender submission to specifically discuss the reuse of waste material on the site.

As a result another consultancy, Envirocentre was commissioned to carry out further ground investigation work. Over 300 samples were taken, and this exercise "showed there was a risk to the ground water, even when Envirocentre factored in the reduced filtration from capping the site.

"The contaminated land officer [a SBC official] has assessed the final supplementary ground investigation report and concluded that reusing the material will not cause a risk to human health if the appropriate measures are put in place.

"However, the analysis regarding the risk to the water environment will have to be reviewed by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) as they have a much wider and more detailed hydro-geological experience and skill".

The report warns that SEPA's involvement in the process could have financial or time related consequences for the council. The ground investigations had only covered some 10 square metres of a two acre site.

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