The Dorset Council has spent tens of thousands of dollars of ratepayer’s money in legal costs in a fight with the state government, after illegally building a works depot on a mining lease in Tasmania’s north-east.
- The Dorset Council built a depot partially inside a sand mining lease without prior approval from government departments
- The holder of the mining lease has objected to transferring the land to the council, saying the land has a “strategically important” amount of sand and basalt
- To date the legal battle between the council and government departments has cost ratepayers more than $30,000
Last year it was revealed the Dorset Council built its Derby depot partially inside the boundary of a sand mining lease, without obtaining planning approvals to do so.
The depot was built by the council to help it manage new mountain biking tracks in the increasingly popular Derby region.
Mineral Resources Tasmania has since refused to surrender the land to the council, resulting in a long-running standoff between the council and relevant state government departments.
New figures obtained by the ABC reveal the Dorset Council had already forked out $36,650 in legal costs related to the dispute between January 2020 and mid-February this year.
The depot itself cost $418,811 to build, including the costs for an access road, fencing and water systems.
Tasmania’s Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS) confirmed the solicitor-general had become involved, “given the actions of council have created complex land management issues for both the state and local government,” but no formal legal action had yet been taken.
A letter from PWS general manager Jason Jacobi to the Dorset Council’s general manager Tim Watson refers to the “unauthorised and illegal construction” of the depot on Crown land, and expresses “disappointment and frustration at the disregard of the council to adhere to the expectations and directions of the state.”
A briefing note to the deputy secretary of the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment, prepared by staffer Andrew Welsh in March last year, said: “It is clear that [Dorset Council] was aware they were building within the Mining Lease area, despite it being Crown land.
The PWS, which oversees crown land, has also accused the Dorset council of continuing to use the depot after being ordered to stop accessing it.
According to emails written by Dorset Council staff, the council hoped that the Crown land under the depot building would be transferred to them after the building was constructed, however, that had not happened.
Dorset Council general manager Tim Watson wrote to Mr Jacobi last March, seeking the transfer of the land or a lease over it.
“My understanding is that the mining lease has no practical implications because the sand resource is some distance away so there is no risk that the lessee would ever want to extract resource where the council building[s] have encroached into the mining lease,” he wrote.
“I suggest you and I have a discussion on the phone and work out a way forward.”
The holder of the mining lease, Derek Hayes, has objected to transferring the land to the council.
Mineral Resources Tasmania has argued if the land is transferred to the council the leaseholder will need to be compensated.
Documents show Mineral Resources Tasmania believes the area holds a significant amount of “strategically important” sand and basalt.
The Parks and Wildlife Service said negotiations over a solution were ongoing, while the Dorset Council said it was confident the matter would be resolved “to the satisfaction of both parties.”