Katherine will finally have its day in court over its long-running PFAS nightmare.
A trial date has been set in what is expected to be a hard fought legal battle with the Defence Department over the continued escape of the chemicals from the Tindal RAAF Base.
More than four months has been set aside for the trial, listed to start in the Federal Court, and likely in Sydney from April next year.
Katherine first found out the PFAS chemicals had leaked from Tindal in November 2016.
Justice Michael Lee will hear all three class actions from Katherine (Shine Lawyers), Williamtown (Dentons) and Oakey (Shine Lawyers) at the same time.
Defence is said to have put aside $53 million of taxpayers' money to fight the case.
The class actions are all focused on drops in property values in the adjacent areas from the PFAS contamination.
Katherine Town Council joined the class action just recently, as it became apparent as one the biggest landowner in the municipality, it potentially had the most to lose.
Most expect the case will hinge on the property values, which have obviously fallen sharply right across the NT, but whether PFAS was the chief cause of price falls in Katherine will be a contentious issue.
The council is the middle of a revaluation of properties across Katherine.
Shine Lawyers, who is leading the Katherine class action, has claimed in the past it has ample evidence to prove its case.
Some of that evidence will come from residents living near the base who will claim their properties are unsaleable as a result of contamination of water and soil.
The case is not expected to dwell on whether PFAS causes harmful health impacts.
Defence has always admitted PFAS leaked from Tindal from the use of firefighting foams once used in training between 1988 and 2004.
Recent studies have shown PFAS continues to leak in a toxic plume through the groundwater directly under Katherine and has done for decades.
Defence has paid for a small emergency water treatment plant with a larger plant coming within a year to provide guaranteed safe, drinking water for Katherine and hopefully end three years of water restrictions.
A mediation session has been listed with Defence in December, before an independent third party.
The trial had actually been expected to start last month before the appointed judge was excused and a new case management judge, Justice Michael Lee, was allocated to hear the three related cases.
At a case management hearing last Friday (September 6), Justice Lee ordered the matter be set down for trial in 2020 in a two-staged approach.
The first stage, to be heard from April 1 to May 1, will hear matters relating to documentary and lay witness evidence with a view to determining factual matters in dispute between the parties (such as the use, containment and disposal of the firefighting foam) as well as legal issues that are common between the all three actions (Oakey, Katherine and Williamtown).
Justice Lee indicated he would endeavour to publish a judgment from that hearing within six weeks after that hearing.
The second stage to be heard from November 30 to Christmas eve next year is set to hear the remainder of the matters in dispute, which will largely relate to the amount of damages.
Justice Lee has directed that a mediation take place for all three matters before the first stage hearing next year.
A further case management hearing will take place on September 27 when it's anticipated Justice Lee will make further orders in respect of expert referees, mediation and the matters to be determined at the first stage hearing.
Shine Lawyers special counsel Joshua Aylward said: "We're happy the court has set down dates for the trial which will bring these matters closer to a resolution.
"The sooner these matters can be resolved the better for the residents of Katherine and the other communities affected by PFAS contamination as they have been living in limbo for years.
"The residents of Katherine have been exceptionally patient and resilient in waiting for this matter to come to a head," Mr Aylward said.
"The staged approach is a position which we advocated for and we are pleased to achieve this result as we believe it to be the most sensible and efficient way to finalise these proceedings.
"Details in respect of the date for the mediation, the mediator and the location are yet to be determined, but we are encouraged the court has requested that both parties meet with an independent third party with a view to settling the matter."
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