Melbourne Victory ponders stadium on toxic wasteland

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A former radioactive waste dump could become a soccer stadium for Melbourne Victory despite concerns from neighbouring homes about gas and other contaminants from the closed landfill sites in the western suburbs.

Brimbank Council has opened public consultation for its 30-year vision to create a $500 million state significant asset at Sunshine Energy Park, which has radioactive materials, solvents, paints, oil, acids, poisons, manure and other household and industrial waste surrounding it.

The Age has confirmed with multiple sources unable to speak publicly that Melbourne Victory, Australia’s largest soccer club, was investigating Sunshine Energy Park as a possible site for new facilities. No agreement has been reached with the council and another option could be chosen.

The club has been searching for land after Maribyrnong Council in 2019 rejected a proposal to convert a section of Footscray Park into an $18 million soccer academy.

Melbourne Victory wanted to lease the Footscray land rent-free for 21 years in exchange for building and maintaining the facility, which would have hosted ticketed events and offered professional coaching and mentoring for women and children.

Brimbank Council has discussed turning the Sunshine landfills into recreational facilities since at least 2013 – seven years before nearby residents were informed they were living on top of or near toxic waste.

The Sunshine block is one of 82 properties affected by buried waste with the potential for landfill gas leaks. Council reports do not state what spent radioactive waste was dumped there.

There are seven waste pits in the area, four of which accepted hazardous rubbish until the late 1970s. The three pits beneath Sunshine Energy Park were not dumped with hazardous materials, but did accept 3.5 million cubic metres of general waste and heavy oils until the late 1980s.

Advice to council in 2014 said all the pits, waste and groundwater had become “intimately linked” beneath Sunshine Energy Park, where landfill gas was also extracted to generate power in the 1990s. Methane continues to be produced onsite.

In 2020, some residents were informed they had been exposed to an unacceptable cancer risk because of elevated levels of benzene and a high risk of explosions because of methane and carbon dioxide. Further testing has since downgraded the risks to low.

An artist’s render of Brimbank City Council’s proposal for the development of Sunshine Energy Park.Credit: Brimbank Council

“Independent assessments show the health risks to residents and workers are low and expected to keep reducing because less gas is produced as the landfills get older,” the council said in an online information sheet.

In May last year, councillors commissioned a concept plan for the park. In November, the councillors suggested establishing a solar energy farm and urban forest on the wasteland.

But a draft council vision released in December said the 54-hectare site also had room for a stadium, sports fields, mountain bike trails, playgrounds, cycling and walking tracks and a community garden.

“A multipurpose stadium will serve the regional and local sporting needs. An indoor show-court stadium could be home to a professional sports team,” consultation documents state, pointing out demand for basketball and netball facilities.

Consultation documents state rehabilitation works, which will continue into the future to control residual landfill gas, means the closed dump is “now suitable to consider opportunities for recreation and community use”, subject to site analysis and design controls “necessary to protect human health”.

A council report acknowledged the park had “technical constraints”. “This includes areas of landfill, consolidation of fill material, stormwater management, gas flares, high voltage transmission lines and the costs associated with building on a consolidated hill,” it said.

The Western Ring Road is built over parts of the closed landfills. The future Airport Rail train line, which is now in doubt, would run beside the land and council wants to harness benefits from the planned new Albion station.

Brimbank resident Richard Carthew said he was sick of “wasteful” spending and concerned about public safety. He said an urban forest and solar farm, as suggested by councillors last year, was a sensible way to create community benefit from the land.

In May last year, councillors commissioned a concept plan for the park.Credit: Brimbank Council

“That’s what I call the ‘toxic park’ … This isn’t just a normal landfill, it’s a landfill for nasty stuff,” Carthew said.

Brimbank mayor Bruce Lancashire said many parks in Melbourne were built on former landfill sites.

“This is a draft, long-term, 30-year vision that outlines aspirations and possibilities for this new community space. Council will consider the community feedback received through the current consultation on the draft vision plan, before making any decisions about the future uses of this site,” Lancashire said.

“We are at the very early stages and open to conversations with any stakeholders who may wish to explore potential ideas and opportunities at the site. However, all proposals would require further investigations, feasibility studies and compliance with planning and [Environment Protection Authority] requirements.”

Stephen Lansdell, the western metropolitan regional manager of the EPA, said council was expected to provide an independent consultant’s environmental assessment of the land by the end of July.

“That assessment would then be reviewed by an EPA-endorsed environmental auditor, whose findings will guide EPA’s next requirements for the site, which are likely to be in the form of an environmental action notice,” Lansdell said.

“Eventually, the site is likely to be subject to an EPA site management order, an enforceable set of requirements for ongoing monitoring and management of the site.”

Melbourne Victory declined to comment.

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