Residents in 13 Victorian council areas will benefit from an extra seven months’ focus on local pollution problems after the innovative Officers for the Protection of the Local Environment (OPLE) project was extended.
The $6.473 million pilot project will now run until 31 July 2019 to address lower-risk environmental issues, such as dust, odour, waste dumping and stockpiling, stormwater, littering and noise pollution.
The OPLEs – who started training in September 2017 before beginning with councils earlier this year – responded to 335 incident reports and completed 299 inspections at 236 locations before 30 June 2018 and have already achieved good outcomes for their communities.
In Brimbank and Hobsons Bay the OPLE worked with car wrecking and scrap metal businesses to reduce storm water contamination caused by oil and fuel run off, while the Port Phillip and Loddon OPLEs tackled residents’ noise complaints.
Sediment run-off and littering at new residential developments was a focus for OPLEs in Surf Coast, Wyndham, Shepparton and Wodonga, while waste dumping and stockpiling was a concern in Mildura. Casey OPLEs also helped residents who were plagued by dust from a nearby market garden.
The program gives councils on-the-spot access to EPA capabilities, and is building on EPA's good working relationships with local government, enabling faster identification and resolution of smaller-scale local pollution and waste issues.
EPA CEO Nial Finegan said the program allowed expertise to be shared between EPA and councils to make a difference to issues that affected local amenity and liveability the most.
“We’ve received great feedback from councils and residents about the impact the OPLEs are having,” he said.
“At its core, the project is about creating meaningful change on a local level and using education to drive compliance.
“We will not shy away, however, from imposing sanctions when proactive measures are not effective and environmental and public health is put at risk. And by partnering with councils, a greater range of sanctions are available to address all aspects of an issue.
“By addressing smaller problems, we can stop them becoming bigger problems.”
Mr Finegan said the program was identified through the Independent Inquiry into the EPA.
“Protecting Victoria’s environmental and public health is everyone’s responsibility,” he said.
“We’re committed to empowering Victorians to become environmental leaders, in their homes, communities and businesses, and the OPLE project is a key part of that.”
Read more about the OPLEs project.