Katherine Town Council is in a race against the clock as concerns build over toxic soil left over from the Territory Day tyre fire.
More than 2000 tonnes of contaminated soil and burnt tyres will have to be relocated before the Darwin wet season kicks in, just weeks away, costing the council $300,000.
The Territory Day tyre fire could end up costing Katherine Town Council the best part of half a million dollars. And that's before any potential fines from the EPA are considered.
At a council meeting last night, acting chief executive Allan McGill said the council was issued a directive from the Environmental Protection Authority, who is currently investigating the circumstances, to remove the waste.
"They are getting nervous with the wet season coming up," Mr McGill said.
It has been about five months since a fire erupted over 200 tonnes of tyres piled high between the speedway track and the Katherine Showgrounds causing toxic smoke to fill the sky in Katherine's south.
Firefighters worked quickly to manage the raging flames and soil was piled on to extinguish the fire.
Residents were warned to close windows and shut off air-conditioners, but were not evacuated despite smoke from tyres burning typically containing cyanide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and products of butadiene and styrene.
Council documents state the burning tyres "were covered with soil, though they continued to burn for the next four to five months."
A small portion of the tyres continue to burn today, leaking toxic hydro-carbons deep into the soil.
Mr McGill tabled a motion at the meeting last night requesting councillors to vote on exempting the council from entering a tender process to remove the waste due to its urgency.
The vote was unanimously passed with the Mayor of Katherine Fay Miller labelling the crisis a "headache".
The council now has just weeks to comply with the EPA's direction.
It will have to fork out $300,000 to Darwin's Shoal Bay Waste Management Facility to remove and deal with the contaminated soil.
The set back comes after the council was given a directive to remove a further 450 tonnes of old tyres left at the Katherine tip, exposing ratepayers to as much as a $100,000 fee.
The council said it engaged "leading industry expert" AGON Environmental to guide the process.
"Because of the nature of the material involved - a listed waste and highly toxic - only licenced specialists can be engaged to work on the site," a council document states.
"Unfortunately, council's own local landfill is unlined and not able to take the contaminated soil.
"Arrangements have been made for Shoal Bay Waste Management Facility to take the soil. However, they have stipulated stringent operating requirements, largely around receiving the material before the wet season, which comes a little earlier in Darwin than in Katherine.
"Thus the urgency of action exacerbates."
The NT Environment Protection Authority is continuing to investigate how the pile of tyres came to be stored in an unsecured location, but details are yet to be released.
Council has said it created the second tyre dump because it considered the fire risks were greater at the rubbish tip, where a further 450 tonnes of tyres had been left.
Tyres must be managed in accordance with the Waste Management and Pollution Control Act 1998 and its Regulations, an EPA spokesman has said.
The EPA spokesman said tyres can only be stored in a licenced location and the unsecured area at the rear of the showgrounds appears to breach those requirements.
At the Ordinary Meeting of Council in September, Alderman Jon Raynor hinted the fire, which forced the relocation of free Territory Day events, might have been purposely ignited.
"It would have had to have help, it takes a lot of heat to get a fire to burn," he said.
"It would have had to have an accelerant."
The notion was confirmed by Alderman Peter Gazey who said he had been told there was an adequate fire break by firefighters on the day.
Despite many residents condemning the council's decision to dump the old tyres Alderman Elizabeth Clark said the tyres were deposited "with the best intentions".
"We were not storing them, we were trialing them for a fence," she said.
"At the time we thought it was a good idea, hindsight is a wonderful thing."
At the same meeting, Katherine Town Council's interim chief executive Mr McGill said he was investigating the events surrounding the tyre fire.
But in response to questions from the Katherine Times today, a council spokeswoman said the "investigation is still ongoing and no information has been released."
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