A Wingecarribee Shire councillor fears that costs incurred for a land deal with the Australian Rail Transport Corporation (ARTC) could "blow out council's budget."
Cr Garry Turland said he was concerned council was taking on the financial burden to test soil at the site to determine the possibility of contamination.
His concern relates to a portion of land on the southern side of the Mittagong Railway Station, near a new lift.
The land is earmarked for a car park following an agreement with Sydney Trains and Transport for NSW (TfNSW).
Sydney Trains has agreed to release some car parking spaces at its Bowral car park for the purpose of a proposed upgrade and road widening of Station Street, Bowral.
However, the agreement, in turn, requires council to establish an additional car parking area for 70 spaces at the Mittagong Railway Station.
This will require the release of land to council that is currently leased by the ARTC.
An ARTC spokesperson has confirmed that Transport for NSW and Wingecarribee Shire Council were planning the new car park at Mittagong station on land owned by TfNSW, which was leased to ARTC.
They said that the ARTC had excised the surplus land from the Deed of Lease to allow council and TfNSW to continue their investigations for the project.
Council has allocated $1 million for the construction the car park at the Mittagong site in its draft 2020/21 budget.
A council spokesperson said that the land is proposed to be leased under a long-term arrangement.
They said the details were "yet to be confirmed" but would perform part of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).
"Preconstruction activities, which include geotechnical testing, soil analysis and waste classification are planned to be undertaken and will form part of the final design and specification," they said.
"The associated costs are anticipated to be about $8000."
Council's deputy general manager Barry Paull said council had engaged a suitably qualified contractor to undertake soil testing and geotechnical investigations at the site.
He said those investigations would be undertaken once approval to access the land was received from the ARTC.
Mr Paull said it was his position "that to do our due diligence we need to ensure that our site doesn't have contamination."
"We've had discussions with Sydney Trains and their view is 'yes you're entitled to do that, it will be something you need to do to inform yourself'.
"In terms of if we will inherit any contamination, that is not the intention.
"A drafted view is being developed in a way that ensures that council is protected and I will make sure that happens."
Cr Turland said he believed the soil testing was not an expense that should be met by council.
In a question with notice at the June 24 ordinary general meeting of council Cr Turland said he wanted the land to be tested for possible contamination before council took ownership of the property.
He said his concern was that council was planning to conduct its own investigation of the site "when we gain access through the (ARTC)."
Cr Turland asked that council be provided a certificate from the ARTC, Sydney Trains, Environment Protection Authority (EPA), and the NSW State Government, confirming that the site was not contaminated.
"The ARTC should give us a clean site to work with, otherwise it will be the community that pays," he said.
"It should not be up to council to pay for this testing. It should be up to the government to provide a clear bill of health for the site.
"When you buy a block of land anywhere, you usually get a clearance title that it's not contaminated if it's an industrial site.
"The problem that I am trying to throw at you guys is why is a government department making a site available with no testing for any contamination of the site?
"So here we are going down the path, signing an agreement the way we do, and we have no knowledge if this site has been contaminated. We could inherit a problem."
Cr Turland said that if council took ownership of the land and then found it was contaminated it would "blow out council's budget with remediation works."
"I fear that we could scratch the surface and find problems," he said.
"It could be diesel, it could be oil, it could be coal. In the old days the steam trains had asbestos lining around the pressure plate.
"Anything is possible. We don't know what was left there in the past.
"Nobody takes ownership of commercial land before it is cleared by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), but the Australian Rail Transport Corporation (ARTC) will release this land to us without a contamination report."
Mayor councillor Duncan Gair acknowledged that "the deputy general manager has given an assurance that we will not be liable and we will protect ourselves."
The Southern Highland News contacted the ARTC asking several questions including:
1. Will the ARTC be providing a certificate ensuring there is no contamination at the site?
2. Is there a possibility that the land could be contaminated due to historical circumstances involving rail operations in the vicinity of the land?
3. A councillor has suggested that the contamination could be caused by coal, oil or even asbestos linings that used to be around the pressure plates on the old steam trains, that could have been discarded in the area. Is this a likely scenario?
The ARTC did not answer any of these questions.
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