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Solution to Cornwallis riverbank collapse disaster in sight

Jul 7, 2023

The 800 plus day saga of the collapsed riverbank at Cornwallis Road, Richmond now appears to be close to financial resolution.

Relevant government departments and Hawkesbury City Council  are awaiting sign off by NSW Treasury for a project to reconstruct the road and fix damage to the riverbank that could cost as much as $40 million.

A series of delays by HCC, the discovery of toxic PFAS chemicals that originated in the Richmond RAAF base, as well as a number of floods in recent years have seen the size of the damaged site dramatically increase. Landowners have waited years for any action to restore lost acreage and are now concerned about the levels of toxic chemicals at the site.

Locals say that if the council had moved early to properly fix the problem – its initial attempt only resulted in further damage – that mounting costs and changes to the way the river flows – its hydrology – could have been avoided. The original problem was caused by the collapse of a storm water drain that the council had failed to properly maintain over several decades.

Cracks started to appear in 2020 in the land at Cornwallis which then collapsed.

Local landowners had offered to fix the problem when it first occurred but were rebuffed by Council who claimed it was its purview.

“The repairs to the road are only estimated and are dependent on a contribution from NSW matched by the Commonwealth under Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements (DRFA) arrangements,” a spokesperson for NSW Department of Planning said.

“This is being assessed by Treasury. In the Hawkesbury more broadly, under the NSW Reconstruction Authority, the new NSW Government is delivering a high-priority Disaster Adaptation Plan to address flood risk in the Hawkesbury Nepean Valley which will include a range of integrated measures. 

The new NSW Government has promised $225 million for a Western Sydney Floods Resilience Plan to commence work on projects including evacuation roads, levees and critical communications infrastructure that will help improve and bolster flood prevention and evacuation infrastructure across Western Sydney. 

The government has said that $200 million of this is to identify, plan, and commence work on critical evacuation roads and bridges across Western Sydney with $24 million set aside   to protect communities around Hawkesbury and Nepean River and Camden and Picton from large scale flooding by building new levees at Peachtree Creek levee, McGraths Hill levee and Pitt Town levee.

The former farmland at Cornwallis is now a bay.

The discovery of toxic PFAS chemicals at  Cornwallis has significantly contributed to expansion of the new, unwanted “bay” on what was former farmland. After the PFAS finding, repairs were halted and successive floods caused more damage to the land and road in a saga that has now been dragging on for almost three years. 

As the Hawkesbury Post reported recently, HCC Infrastructure Director Will Barton said the PFAS contamination in the area was previously identified in the Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Management Area Plan for RAAF Base Richmond. The Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Management Area Plan for RAAF Base Richmond identified that the area around Cornwallis was known to have potential PFAS contamination. Due to this, further testing for PFAS was undertaken, ” he said.

While PFAS remains in the soil at the site, the EPA has decided to take no further action, paving the way for works to begin once funding is secured.


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