The Waramanga couple at the centre of a horror 38-year house extension saga in the ACT owe the Eurobodalla Shire Council $450,000 in legal and clean up costs.
A council-appointed contractor charged almost $150,000 to remove more than 100 tonnes of what the Land and Environment Court has ruled was rubbish from Paul and Monica Gerondal’s Bingie property last year.
The couple, who are both in their 70s and suffer a range of health problems, have been resisting attempts by the south coast council to force them to clean up the three hectare block for at least a decade.
They own two blocks in the Eurobodalla shire.
The matter was referred to the Land and Environment Court more than seven years ago.
Over the course of repeated appearances, hearings and appeals, magistrates have ruled Mrs Gerondal, who represented the couple, had given unreliable evidence. Mr Gerondal was found in contempt of court for failing to comply with directions and orders.
Council was finally given the go ahead to have a contractor move in and clean up the three-hectare site at 19 Munjeroo Lane midway through last year. The property was home to car bodies, rubbish bins, bottles, kitchen appliances, sheets of used corrugated iron, an old caravan, timber pallets, a lime green Mini Minor, a comprehensive selection of porcelain toilet seats and even a red PMG phone booth.
Other material the court ruled was rubbish included a ride-on mower, a boat, 44-gallon drums, windows and window frames, beer kegs, gas cylinders, roof tiles, concrete and tyres.
"The motor vehicles, caravans and tractor observed on site were unregistered and derelict," the court ruled.
The Gerondals said the material was private property, not waste, and Mrs Gerondal told the court some of it was works of art.
After an "in camera" briefing and discussion at their meeting on July 24, 2012, Eurobodalla councillors voted to set aside $140,000 to fund the cleanup in accordance with the LEC orders. Councillors also resolved "every effort be made to recover the funds expended in the cleanup".
With the work now complete, council is chasing its money as it does not want ratepayers left carrying the can. Fairfax has been told the contractor charged $147,000 to take more than 100 tonnes of rubbish to the Surf Beach Tip.
Fairfax has asked Eurobodalla Shire Council to confirm how much rubbish was removed, when the work was done and by whom, and what the final bill came to.
Mrs Gerondal said the balance of the $450,000 was for council charges and the reimbursement of the Shire’s legal costs. She said these, and the cleanup costs, were punitive and excessive.
The couple have already paid the ACT Government $70,000 in legal costs for an unsuccessful legal challenge against orders on the Waramanga property.
The Gerondal’s say they don’t have the money to pay the $450,000, which may even exceed the value of the lakeside block, and expect it to be sold if they cannot have the claim overturned.
"If the charge is enforced then everything we have ever worked for, everything we have paid for, everything we have ever done will be completely gone down the sink," she said. "And for what? Because of the illegal and inappropriate application of the laws."
She rejected council’s charge the Gerondal’s had been running an illegal tip and disputed the description of the possessions at the site as waste.
The property is close to Kelly’s Lake and the Bateman’s Marine Park Sanctuary Zone. Concerns had been raised that pollution from the site could contaminate the lake and the sanctuary zone.
Bega MP Andrew Constance, who has reportedly said the couple should not be pursued for the outstanding costs, has initiated a NSW Legislative Assembly inquiry into the management and disposal of waste on private land.
Submissions to the inquiry close on July 29. It is to examine a wide range of issues including "the adequacy of inspection and enforcement procedures, including relevant sanctions and powers to recover costs’’.
No submissions had been posted on the committee website as of Thursday.