You web browser may not be properly supported. To use this site and all its features we recommend using the latest versions of Chrome, Safari or Firefox

Slater and Gordon are continuing to service the community during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Click here for more info

Farm Outback

A number of landholders at Longford in Gippsland, Victoria are now in discussion with Exxon Mobil about a potential buy up of their land, following the discovery of the toxic chemical PFAS (per and poly-fluoroalkyl substances).

The substance was contained in firefighting foam that was used at the Longford gas plant for approximately 40 years up until 2008.

Tests have revealed levels of water and soil contamination above government health guidelines, with the chemicals leaking beyond the plant to neighbouring properties.

Exxon Mobil has indicated it is willing to negotiate with the owners of affected properties, but landholders should be very cautious of accepting early offers to buy their land.

Don’t sign away your rights

Victoria's Environment Protection Authority has recently issued a clean-up notice ordering Exxon Mobil to undertake a two-year audit of the site and surrounding land.

That means the full extent of contamination, and the success or otherwise of clean-up activities, is unlikely to be confirmed before 2020.

Landholders need to know the full extent of contamination damage before negotiating their claim for damage, so they can account for all losses suffered, including the impact on farming interests and livestock health.

Landholders should also be wary of signing any agreement that includes a clause releasing Exxon Mobil from legal claims. These are standard terms in settlement agreements, so landholders should seek the advice of an expert lawyer so they don’t sign away their future rights.

How far can PFAS spread?

There may also be a number of landholders further away from the gas plant who do not receive a buy up offer, but whose land is contaminated. Accordingly, the number of affected landholders will not be known until the full extent of contamination is confirmed.

However, we know from other cases like the Williamtown RAAF Base contamination near Newcastle that PFAS can spread up to 18km from the source of contamination.

Anyone who thinks they might be in the contamination zone should seek expert legal advice.

What can landholders be compensated for?

Landholders affected by PFAS contamination should be compensated not only for any reduction in the value of their land, but for any additional losses and expenses that have been, or are likely to be, incurred as a result of the contamination.

Common items in such claims include:

  • Compensation for any reduction in value of the land or loss on sale of the land caused by the contamination;
  • Costs of purchasing a replacement property, if the land is sold or unusable for its intended purpose (including stamp duty, conveyancing costs, removalists costs, etc);
  • Compensation for the loss of use of any land area required for remediation (such as dams fenced off to prevent livestock access);
  • Losses caused by disruption to any business operating from the land;
  • Additional business expenses incurred due to contamination (such as additional feed costs if pasture unable to be used for livestock);
  • Costs of independent environmental testing or advice about the extent or impacts of contamination;
  • Costs of professional advisors (including lawyers, accountants, etc); and
  • Potential compensation for stress and inconvenience caused by the contamination.

In the news

Slater and Gordon Practice Group Leader Manisha Blencowe spoke to the ABC and warned landholders against accepting early offers:

“They did not choose to be in this position and it would be unfair to short-change them by trying to assess property values before the full extent of contamination is known.”

Manisha also spoke to the Gippsland Times and urged consultation with expert lawyers so landholders don’t sign away their rights:

“Landholders either need to know the full extent of contamination damage, or they need to negotiate the terms of the buy-up”.

The contents of this blog post are considered accurate as at the date of publication. However the applicable laws may be subject to change, thereby affecting the accuracy of the article. The information contained in this blog post is of a general nature only and is not specific to anyone’s personal circumstances. Please seek legal advice before acting on any of the information contained in this post.

Thank you for your feedback.

Related blog posts

Property Law
Making a pre-acquisition compensation claim

Previously we explored the ways in which land owners and occupiers can claim compensation prior to an acquisition. In this post we discuss the rights to compensation under the Planning and Environment Act 1987 (Vic) (PEA) which are designed to put the claimant in a similar position to if their land was never reserved or shown to be reserved for a public purpose. The right to claim compensation under the PEA is usually triggered by one of two events: In the first category, a claim is usually made after the following steps have been taken: In this category, a land owner has to give the relevant planning authority (usually the local Council or VicRoads) 60 days’ notice of their intention to...

Property Law
You have rights to compensation for compulsorily acquired land

The process that precedes a compulsory acquisition can be long and drawn out. Some owners wonder whether the day will ever really come that they lose their land and get a right to compensation. Many wrongly assume there is nothing that can be done to claim for losses before the land is actually compulsorily acquired. The last edition of this blog explored the scope of planning controls that allow the acquisition of land by government authorities. It is entirely possible that you may have to wait decades from the initial exhibition of a planning scheme amendment showing your land to be reserved for a public purpose to the actual acquisition taking place. In the interim, you are stuck with a...

Property Law
Does a Public Acquisition Overlay result in compulsory acquisition?

In Victoria, the process that leads to a compulsory acquisition almost always begins with a Public Acquisition Overlay (PAO) being placed over a piece or pieces of land by the local council. Planning overlays are instruments used by government to restrict the use of land in a variety of ways. A PAO reserves land for a public purpose and is one of the first indicators for a land owner that their land is earmarked for compulsory acquisition. One of the issues with PAOs is that they do not have an “expiry” date and can sometimes be left over the land for decades before an acquisition takes place. This quite commonly occurs along major arterial roads that are planned to be widened, such as...

96326163Blog

We're here to help

Start your online claim check now. Or, if you have a question, get in touch with our team.