‘Prisoners’ in their own homes

By Jeremy Sollars

Noise from Allora’s GrainX grain handling facility “significantly exceeds” acceptable limits in a residential area, a specialist consultant has found.
Residents of ‘The Best Little Town on the Downs’ have been enduring what they say are unacceptable impacts from GrainX since the operation started up in 2011.
The noise and dust generated from the site are so bad residents on Herbert and other nearby streets adjacent to GrainX have spoken of living as “prisoners” in their own homes, and some have sold up at a loss and left town.
The Southern Downs Regional Council initiated court action against GrainX back in September, alleging the operation is in breach of conditions of its council approval, including noise nuisance caused to surrounding residences.
The case is set to drag on until well into the new year, with reviews set down in the Queensland Planning and Environment Court for mid-December and late February.
While the council’s court action does not address concerns over dust from the site, a report by noise expert Paul King of Brisbane-based consulting firm MWA Environmental – engaged by the council – strongly supports the council’s allegation that GrainX is in breach of its noise conditions.
In a 98-page affidavit lodged with the court in late November, Mr King states that his own independent analysis of noise levels at GrainX shows they “exceed derived criteria limits by up to 26 decibels”.
“This is a very significant exceedance in my experience and results in a significant impact on the amenity of the surrounding residential uses,” Mr King states in his affidavit.
“At this level of exceedance noise is clearly annoying both within and external to buildings irrespective of the construction of the dwelling.
“Inspections identify that GrainX noise is clearly audible at surrounding residences and of a level, character and duration which is very different to all other local noise sources.
“The high level of activity on the GrainX site results in extended and frequent periods of high noise levels at surrounding residences.
“It is my opinion that it is necessary for GrainX to implement noise control measures to reduce noise levels immediately.”
Mr King recommends “acoustic enclosure” of drive motors and gearboxes on the bucket elevator feeding grain into the site’s concrete silos, “acoustic lagging” of steel grain transfer pipes – including to metal silos on the site – and fitting of “discharge silencers” and “acoustic screening/enclosure” of other components such as conveyors.
His report notes that GrainX operates from 7am to 6pm Monday to Friday, and from 8am to 5pm on Saturdays.
The council’s solicitors – Brisbane firm Connor O’Meara – have outlined the list of breaches the council alleges GrainX has committed under Queensland’s Environmental Protection Act.
Specifically the council is seeking the Planning and Environment Court to issue GrainX with ‘restraint and enforcement orders’ relating to noise from “fixed and mobile plant and equipment”, and noise from “a package diesel generator unit” on the GrainX site.
The council also alleges GrainX does not have formal building approval for “the construction of four silos on the eastern boundary”, and has not provided “dense landscaping” on the eastern boundary – adjacent to Herbert Street residents, the closest in town – and “street trees”, as required by the company’s development approval.
The council has also asked the court to order that GrainX pay its court and investigation costs.
So far affidavits have been lodged with the court by at least eight Allora residents, all confirming the years of living with noise and other impacts from GrainX which have made their lives a living hell.
The matter is next listed for a review in the Planning and Environment Court tomorrow, Friday 15 December, and again on Thursday 22 February.
A full hearing date is yet to be set and may not be necessary if GrainX and the council can come to an agreement about noise reduction and other measures through mediation.
Comment for this story was sought from GrainX chief executive officer Chris Hood and manager David Brown but none was received by time of printing.

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