Quirky Ballina plant recycler threatened with $1m in fines
TREVOR Murray, of West Ballina's endearingly unconventional business, Trev's Recycled Garden, is being threatened with a $1.1-million fine from Ballina Shire Council if he doesn't comply with council orders he says will send the business broke.
The 64-year-old Ballina man was on a disability pension following a heart attack when he started Trev's Recycled Garden on half an acre of industrial-zoned land in West Ballina 10 years ago.
Now his quirky recycled garden, with its resident white peahen and palm tree 'rehab centre', attracts celebrity Instagramers and online inquiries around the world.
However, Mr Murray says he and his employees, many of whom also work with disabilities, are being forced out by council demands he can't meet.
People like this place because it is very natural, very earthy and they are trying to take the earth out of it
- Trevor Murray
Five years ago, Ballina Shire Council realised Mr Murray had not lodged a development application for his business.
Mr Murray lodged the application and it was approved. However, he said the conditions on it were so stringent they effectively made his business unviable.
Among other things, Mr Murray was told he needed to construct car parking for 12 cars with a drive-through facility that would take out about 40% of the land he currently uses for plant stock.
A Ballina Shire Council spokesperson said the conditions were imposed to ensure the safety of staff and customers, including providing the appropriate level of fire controls, providing safe access off a major road and disabled parking.
However, Mr Murray said garden didn't operate like a regular business.
"I'm a recycling facility, not a nursery," Mr Murray said.
"I have eight customers a day. Why do I need 12 car parking spaces?
"People like this place because it is very natural, very earthy and they are trying to take the earth out of it."
However, what comes out of Trev's Garden is part of the problem.
The council says polluted water overflows from rainwater tanks on the site into stormwater drains whenever there is a heavy downpour. An analysis of the runoff done by the council found a high level of faecal coliform of 9000cfu in 100 ml of discharge.
The council has told Mr Murray to recycle the water on-site, at his own cost, to prevent it entering the pollutants from entering the stormwater system.
A spokesperson said the council could have issued Mr Murray with fines for this but chose to issue only a formal warning in an effort to have the issues behind the pollution fixed.
The ultimate threat for Trev's Garden was delivered by the council in in March, in the form of a 10 page letter that warned the council would launch legal action if he didn't do as he'd been told. The council warned Mr Murray action could result in a fine of $1.1 million plus penalties of $10,000 a day.
Mr Murray said his business, overall, was good for the environment.
"I'm in the business of saving plants," Mr Murray said. "If all these trees were mulched it would produce methane.
"The Government gave Ballina Shire Council $150,000 for a recycling program and yet I am being forced out of business by council for recycling.
"I just don't know what I'll do if this closes. I feel like I could go on for another 20 years," he said.
The council spokesperson said that was all well and good, but didn't change the fact Mr Murray had to operate within the same rules as everyone else.
"Council encourages recycling and any business that reduces landfill, however all businesses are required to comply with their development consents," the spokesperson said.
"Council only imposes conditions to protect ratepayers and customers, as well as to ensure that the business is carried out in accordance with various State Government laws and regulations.
"Council wants to work with Mr Murray to resolve these matters and it is important that he responds to Council's requests."