Cobargo residents were left worried and dismayed after council announced plans to turn the town's tip into a landfill that accepted asbestos, with many feeling a lack of information on the issue was unacceptable.
During an at-times heated fire recovery meeting in the town last week residents voiced their concerns over the proposal, as well as to Australian Community Media.
Don Green lives within one kilometre of the tip and said the plans to dispose of asbestos at the site were "salt in the wounds" for residents still recovering from the New Year's Eve fire.
His main concern was of asbestos impacting nearby properties.
He claimed Bega Valley Shire Council only began its consultation process with local residents at the start of February, as while it announced its intentions on its website in mid-January locals were not told.
"Within two weeks of the fire ripping this place to pieces council announced they are going to do this," he said.
There's many reasons [residents oppose the plans] and a lot of them are emotional, but there's nothing wrong with that.Cobargo resident Sue Wilson
Cobargo Preschool director Christine McKnight said her concerns were around the safety of the children when contractors transported asbestos past or cleaned up around the preschool, and said she only received information from council on the matter late last week.
"I've been assured by council the plan is safe, but they should have contacted us; for me especially as I have a duty of care to the children and I didn't have any information to pass on to the parents," she said.
"We were all left wondering what's going on and because we weren't given any reassurance we started to think maybe it wasn't safe."
Ms McKnight said she has now been assured by council it will notify her when fire-damaged buildings near the preschool will be cleaned up so she has the option to cancel preschool for the day if the risk is deemed to be too high.
Sue Wilson, whose property shares a boundary with the tip, was concerned about negative stigma from installing an asbestos dump about 800metres outside Cobargo.
"We are going to lose a lot of business from this fire and the way to get people back here isn't to put an asbestos dump on the edge of town," she said.
"There's many reasons [residents oppose the plans] and a lot of them are emotional, but there's nothing wrong with that.
"It's not a good label for this town; we need to rebuild and have a good image."
In response to the claims of a lack of consultation, a council spokesperson said once the NSW government gave council an indication the site may be suitable to reopen for landfilling council began engaging with adjoining neighbours.
Establishing a landfill at a new site would take significantly longer than mobilising a site that already has approvals in place.Bega Valley Shire Council
"We had already commenced undertaking works on the site which was affected by fire and needed remediation anyway (noting that there was asbestos on the site exposed by fire)," they said.
The spokesperson said along with the distribution of a media release, a factsheet was compiled and distributed, information was available on council's website, and another community meeting will soon be held in Cobargo specifically on this topic.
The spokesperson said options other than the current landfill plan had been and were still being considered, including trucking the asbestos out of the shire, creating new sites and expanding other existing waste sites.
"We also considered utilising the Central Waste Facility (CWF) and this may still be an option down track if we reach a capacity at other sites, however the lead time for approvals and cell contraction at the CWF would mean nothing could commence for several months," they said.
"The benefits of this option are that the disposal of material will be much more efficient as long-distance carting will be minimised and the process moving forward will be as quick as possible to enable the community to get back on its feet.
"Additionally, the Cobargo Transfer Station was built on top of an old landfill, so we won't be contaminating natural ground.
"Establishing a landfill at a new site would take significantly longer than mobilising a site that already has approvals in place.
"Council is still exploring options for handling asbestos in the south of the shire."
Once landfilling is complete the site will be capped and remediated to a standard suitable for future stock grazing purposes, they said.
The spokesperson said council will have continuous air monitoring at Cobargo to ensure disposal activities are undertaken safely and strict decontamination procedures for plant and machinery will be in place.
Also, asbestos removal contractors will have purpose-built vehicles designed specifically for transportation of asbestos waste.