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http://www.lawyers.com.au/legal-articles/2011/3/26/gasleak-win-threat-to-councils/

Gas-leak win threat to councils

The Age

Saturday March 26, 2011

BY JASON DOWLING AND ADRIAN LOWE

VICTORIAN councils could face more class actions for bad planning or waste management decisions after a landmark $23.5 million settlement for residents of Cranbourne's gas-affected Brookland Greens estate.Hundreds of residents of the estate who were forced to evacuate after dangerously high levels of methane gas were detected in their homes in September 2008, due to methane gas leaks from a former landfill nearby are poised to collect up to $130,000 each as part of the proposed Supreme Court settlement.The payout would be funded by the Casey Council and the state Environment Protection Authority.The settlement has almost certainly averted the need for a three-month trial involving 14 defendants. But proceedings will continue, with Casey Council and the EPA pursuing recovery claims.Victorian Ratepayers Association president Jack Davis said the settlement was "a just decision" and predicted more class actions. "I think it will sit as an example; there are plenty of tips," he said.Law firm Slater & Gordon, which launched the class action, says the case should be a warning to developers about the environmental hazards of building on contaminated land.A senior local government expert, who did not wish to be named, said there were "plenty of lawyers out there looking for an opportunity".But he added he expected it would take another "extreme case" like Brookland Greens to get a class action off the ground.The law suit involved more than 750 residents from the estate. The size of their payouts expected to range between $6000 and $130,000 will depend on their individual circumstances.The case will return to court next month for final ratification before Justice Robert Osborn."We're optimistic that the judge will approve the settlement and that our clients will be satisfied with the outcome," said Slater & Gordon practice group leader Ben Hardwick.He described the decision as a landmark environmental tort settlement.Casey Council would pay $13.5 million and the EPA would pay $10 million. But lawyers would take a $6 million cut of the payout to residents, of which Slater & Gordon would take $3.9 million.Residents in Tullamarine, in Melbourne's north, as well as Brooklyn, in the city's inner-west, have also raised concerns about local pollution. In Tullamarine, some residents fear a nearby former waste dump has led to an increase in the number of incidents of cancer in the area.However, a Cancer Council Victoria study last year found no excess of cancers for residents living close to the landfill site, which closed in 2008.In Brooklyn and western Yarraville, residents claim they have been exposed to unsafe dust levels from a nearby industrial estate.A spokeswoman for the EPA said it was not involved in any other class actions, and a Casey Council spokeswoman said the settlement was important because it would allow residents to move on with their lives.The council said it was continuing a claim of indemnity against its insurer, the Municipal Association of Victoria.

© 2011 The Age

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