North East Link to pollute Yarra River with megalitres of stormwater runoff

The Yarra River will be polluted with stormwater containing potentially toxic chemicals running off the $16 billion North East Link unless action is taken, a respected water expert has warned.

Chris Chesterfield, who is the chair of the Birrung Council which was appointed by the Andrews government in 2018 to advocate for the Yarra, says the river will be polluted with significant volumes of stormwater if water treatment is not installed along the widened Eastern Freeway.

He says the construction of freeways in Melbourne has been a “disaster” for the Yarra’s health and the North East Link must mark a turning point in protecting the city’s rivers and creeks.

The Yarra River is at risk of being polluted with huge volumes of stormwater runoff from the North East Link.Credit:Craig Abraham

The expansion of the Eastern Freeway to more than 20 lanes at its widest point will “obviously create additional stormwater runoff” into Koonung Creek, which runs adjacent to the freeway and flows into the Yarra, Mr Chesterfield warned.

The North East Link’s environmental effects statement says the project will not pollute the Yarra River, while twin six-kilometre tunnels are being built at least 15 metres beneath the river and the Banyule Flats to protect them.

Mr Chesterfield – who was the chair of the Yarra Protection Ministerial Advisory Committee last year and an executive at Melbourne Water for 12 years before that – said the tunnel provided valuable protection, but much more should be done.

EastLink, which opened in 2008, marked a significant point in water protection, as 60 wetlands were created to treat stormwater runoff along a 45 kilometre-stretch of road, he said.

Stormwater treatment should be built along the entire Eastern Freeway as part of the North East Link project, he said.

Treatment options for Koonung Creek will be devised in the final design, the North East Link project outlines, and there are targets to ensure runoff meets state pollution targets.

The 26-kilometre North East Link, set to carry 135,000 vehicles daily, is designed to fill the ‘missing link’ in Melbourne’s ring road, taking thousands of trucks off congested arterial roads in the north-east.

Duncan Elliott, chief executive of the North East Link Project, said: “We have worked hard to minimise project impacts and that’s why we are tunnelling under environmentally sensitive areas including the Yarra River, Banyule Flats and Warringal Parklands.

“Protecting the Yarra River has been at the forefront of our thinking and design – that’s why we have declared it a no-go zone for surface works.”

This content was originally published here.

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