Numerous enforcement and court actions were issued during the company’s operation, but by the time governing bodies intervened, the site had collected a mix of construction and demolition waste that at points stood 20 metres high.
The rubbish mound included timber, soil, brick, concrete, plastic, glass and ceramics. It took as many as 100 workers three years to delicately remove the rubbish.
Although the waste was predominantly made up of recyclable materials, only 10 per cent could be recycled due to asbestos contamination. The polluted materials, including the soil, were taken to offsite licensed landfills.
The timber found was processed and chipped into 26,000 cubic metres of mulch. About 85 per cent of that mulch was recycled offsite for vegetation works. The remaining was sent to landfill.
Because of its location only 1.2 kilometres from a housing estate, extensive measures were put in place to reduce fire risk while the workers removed the waste. These included infrared CCTV cameras, one million litres of tank water and drone monitoring.
The financial mess left by the failed recycling business is also extensive, and regulatory bodies are seeking to recoup as much as they can of the $71 million bill that has, so far, been paid by taxpayers. The final cost of the project will be determined in the coming months.
The site is the responsibility of liquidator PwC, after the landowner, the South Korean-owned Australian Sawmilling Company, went into liquidation in 2019.
“We’re continuing to work to recover costs associated with the clean-up by pursing the site’s former owners, occupiers and other relevant parties,” a spokesperson for the EPA said.
Kylie Grzybek, a Greater Geelong councillor, said she hoped the government’s work to recover costs from the site’s previous owners and occupiers would be successful.
But the EPA has suggested that because of limitations placed on liquidators, it is unlikely that all clean-up costs will be recovered.
PwC declined to respond to The Age for comment.
In November 2017, McAuliffe was issued with notice by the EPA to remove all the waste that was stockpiled at the site within four weeks, which he failed to do.
The following year his company was declared insolvent by order of the Federal Court, after it refused to pay a $307,000 tax debt.
McAuliffe also claimed to be bankrupt, but an Age investigation revealed he planned to sail to the Whitsundays in a 28-metre yacht owned by a trust controlled by a family member, and leave the toxic rubbish mound to the authorities.
He later pleaded guilty to nine charges, brought by the City of Greater Geelong, of breaching VCAT orders and failing to comply with orders from the EPA to remove the waste.
McAuliffe was spared jail time after he successfully appealed his 90-day prison sentence in 2020. He died later that year.
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