Under the cover of darkness of the NSW caretaker period, Origin Energy Eraring quietly delivered an engineering report to the NSW Office of Sport that its ash dump at Eraring power station posed a significant risk to the community in the event of an earthquake and recommending that the Myuna Bay Sports and Recreation Centre had to close immediately.

To the absolute shock of the Lake Macquarie community, with no consultation and no previous warning that the ash dump was such a risk, the Office of Sport closed the much-loved Centre, a local institution since 1944.

Minister for Sport John Sidoti is calling for an Independent expert review of the report “at arms length” from Origin Energy. In the meantime, the community is left without its 75-year institution and is justifiably outraged.

Waste from the combustion of coal goes to ash dumps.  This coal ash is toxic: full of heavy metals that can have very serious environmental and human health impacts. The dumps are generally huge, poorly constructed sites that aren’t built to rigorously protect environmental and community health. The Eraring ash dump is no exception – it’s unlined, it’s built on top of an old ash dump site, it’s right next to Lake Macquarie, and it regularly blows toxic ash dust over nearby residents.

An earthquake threat seems serious – a 1 in 500 year event according to the Geoscience Australia who oversee seismic activity – so why is the issue coming to light now?

It’s worth keeping in mind that the NSW Department of Planning and Environment is assessing a development application from Eraring to expand its ash dump. Surely the serious nature of the threat raises significant questions about the structural integrity of the ash dump such that the NSW government should contemplate the closure and rehabilitation of the ash dump.

Why has an earthquake threat not already been addressed? How long the ash dump has been a threat to the community? Where is the Dams Safety Committee – who oversee the structural integrity and safety of the Eraring ash dump – and why haven’t they publicly responded to this? Has the Dams Safety Committee received the report? Why has the road outside the Sports and Recreation Centre not been protected or closed?

Why is no-one currently proposing immediate protection measures for Lake Macquarie itself?

Of course we want power stations and the government agencies who regulate them to put community safety at the front of their operations.

If the ash dump is such a risk that immediate action had to be taken to protect the community then the ash dump should have been the site to close. The NSW government must remove the threat, not everything around it.

Rather than dictating to the NSW Office of Sport and the local community what they should do, Origin Energy Eraring should be made to remove the toxic ash from the dump to a purpose-built site that adheres to best practice construction, siting, lining and management thereby removing the threat from the community, and ensure current dump site is comprehensively rehabilitated.

The NSW Central Coast community should not have to live with this toxic threat, nor without its much-loved Sports and Recreation Centre.