From caravans to water tanks, children’s toys to surfboards, tonnes of rubbish have been removed from rivers in the far north of New South Wales as part of a mammoth clean-up of flood debris.
- 2,600 cubic meters of waste is removed from the Tweed, Wilsons and Richmond rivers and Ballina beaches
- Heavy machinery including cranes on floating barges are used to collect large waste
- Aerial surveys and sonar detection are helping to locate hazardous materials
The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is managing the work, which started with aerial mapping of the flooded waterways in March.
EPA flood program manager Martin Puddey said the survey showed priority areas.
“We can use that to target areas or identify if something is really hazardous like a big drum filled with pesticides, water tanks, pieces of jetty and pontoons, stuff that is partially submerged and could be a navigational hazard.”
A dive salvage company retrieved a Return and Earn container deposit machine in the Tweed that had washed away from a Murwillumbah carpark and flushed kilometers downstream to a site near Condong.
Mr Puddey said it took a 140-tonne crane to lift it out of the river.
“It was a really complex operation,” he said.
Specialist marine contractor Frankie Bryant said her team had been concentrating for the past month on the Wilsons River near Lismore, which was at the center of the natural disaster.
Ms Bryant said the larger items were often easier to remove, while the most challenging was plastic waste entangled in trees on the riverbank.
“We can actually sometimes get stuck in little areas where you just find me up pulling small pieces of plastic,” she said.
The rubbish is collected on smaller boats then moved to skip bins on bars.
Cranes then lift the skips onto trucks to be taken to a nearby waste facility.
Larger waste is collected with excavators that are floated around the river on barges.
Ms Bryant said there was a huge effort made to try and return items wherever possible.
“I kind of wish everyone engraved their name on every piece of furniture or equipment so we could get it back to them.”
For contractor John Fletcher, it has been, at times, an emotional experience wading through personal items.
The EPA expects it will take another two months to complete the clean up, including using sonar technology to detect large, hazardous items lodged on the riverbed.
“You can’t see them,” Mr Puddey said.
“They’re a huge risk to navigation and people’s safety.”