When contacted by the Sun-Herald last week, the EPA said it had re-opened the case on the basis of new evidence.
But the saga has raised fresh concerns about the EPA’s handling of illegal waste activities, after the organisation was referred to the corruption watchdog in 2017 over allegations on Four Corners it failed to act over similar issues.
“It’s unbelievable,” one of the landowners, Frank Jones, said.
“The EPA has spent more effort resisting my efforts to uncover what has occurred, than they have on actual investigation.”
The affected properties are on a stretch of undeveloped land between Princes and William Streets in Riverstone. They are in a hotspot for illegal dumping due to rapid residential growth on Sydney’s rural outskirts.
Owners say around 4000 tonnes of waste – including soil, concrete, timber, plastic pipes and asbestos fragments – has been dumped there.
Most of the dumping is believed to have taken place in late 2018 and early 2019, when a red and a white tipper truck were spotted at the site by witnesses on multiple occasions.
After the dumping the trucks would return with an excavator to spread the waste across the land, witnesses said.
A dossier of evidence was compiled for authorities. It contained four witness statements and multiple photographs of the trucks at the site, including the red truck’s number plate and a photo where it appears to be in the act of dumping.
Blacktown Council launched an investigation and in February 2019 its officers grilled the red truck’s owner over whether he drove it at the site the previous month.
The truck’s owner pointed the finger at a third party, who he said he loaned the truck to at the time.
Due to the presence of asbestos, Blacktown Council handed the investigation to the Western Sydney Regional Illegal Dumping Squad (RID), which passed it to the EPA.
Mr Jones said once the investigation fell into the hands of the EPA it hit a dead end.
In late 2019, the EPA informed residents it had closed the investigation because there was insufficient evidence to meet the high bar for a successful prosecution.
“The reason there is insufficient evidence is that it appears the EPA didn’t collect any,” Mr Jones complained.
An EPA spokeswoman defended its decision, saying it had interviewed multiple potential witnesses.
“There did not appear to be any reasonable avenues of enquiry that would lead to the identification of the individuals responsible,” she said.
The spokeswoman said the investigation was reopened after new information was received in July.
“The EPA will not hesitate to prosecute in cases where sufficient evidence exists to identify the dumper, this can include proving who was behind the wheel of a vehicle at the time,” she said.
The EPA’s prosecution guidelines state the adequacy of the evidence is not the sole criteria in deciding whether to pursue a prosecution and the “dominant factor” should be the public interest.
After the investigation was closed, Mr Jones lodged a freedom of information request for the truck owner’s name so he could pursue private legal action.
His request was denied and the truck’s ownership remains a mystery.
“The offenders appear to be protected from all sides,” Mr Jones said. “The EPA won’t take any action and they are happy to prevent others from taking action.”
The registration of the red truck has recently been changed.
Several of the owners who were hoping to build on their land must now go through the costly process of disposing of the building waste at a licensed facility.
In a letter Environment Minister Matt Kean said he was sorry for the “devastating” impact of the dumping on the landowners but said the case would provide “significant motivation to the EPA team to redouble its efforts” against illegal dumpers.
The response fell flat with Mr Jones.
“It’s just like making a New Year’s resolution – I’ll do better next time, I just can’t do it right now.”
Carrie Fellner is an investigative reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.