As a child who attended eight different schools, home was always on the move for Rhianna Gorfine.
In adulthood, her dream was a “forever home”: an acreage where she could keep her horses and raise a family with her husband, Cain. Somewhere safe and stable. Ms Gorfine thought she’d found it in Williamtown, until her dream came crashing down with revelations the property was contaminated with per- and poly-fluoralkyl [PFAS] chemicals.
Around the same time, a large sand quarry was proposed for the neighbouring block on Cabbage Tree Road. At least 50 cases of cancer have been recorded on a five-kilometre section of the road in 15 years.
“Put yourself in the shoes of these residents you’ve heard today,” Ms Gorfine urged the Independent Planning Commission on Monday, as she pleaded with them to reject the proposal.
“How would you feel, knowing your house is worth nothing? How would you feel to have a shadow of doubt over your health, every single day?
“It's devastating, and worst of all, we can't move, we can't escape and our home is worthless … how do we start again?”
The Independent Planning Commission – formerly known as the Planning Assessment Commission – is deliberating over the plan by the Williamtown Sand Syndicate to extract just over three million tonnes of sand from the 42-hectare site.
Around 50 people gathered at the Mecure Hotel for a public hearing on Monday, attended by commissioners Dianne Leeson (Chair), Peter Duncan AM and Peter Cochrane. Ten objectors spoke against the quarry, while there were no speakers in support.
Port Stephens MP Kate Washington urged the panel to take into account the “unique” circumstances.
“At the very least I would be asking that the process be suspended until the epidemiological study [on Williamtown] is complete and … there is understanding from this community whether or not they can get the buy out of their properties,” she said.
There was laughter in the room when she pointed out that the plans referenced another quarry operator that had been fined for about 1000 unauthorised truck movements.
“I question significantly the comment holding out Mackas Sand as the leading light on managing truck movements. Good lord,” she said.
Resident Brian Curry questioned how the sand mine could go ahead while residents were forbidden from removing soil and sand from the ‘red zone’.
“It seems illogical, unjust and contradictory,” he said.
Another neighbour, Rod Scaife, warned the commissioners would not be around to police the quarry.
“You people will go back to Sydney tonight, presumably in your comfortable home, and that’s the end of it. For us, it’s just the continuation of the nightmare.”
Cabbage Tree Road resident Wayne Sampson, who has one of the highest levels of PFAS contamination in his blood, voiced fears about increased truck movements, health effects and deteriorating property values.
“I know many of the things I am going to mention don’t seem to be of concern to the relevant authorities, but they mean a heck of a lot to us,” he said.