By Rebecca Peppiatt
Bullsbrook residents were taken by surprise last week when it was announced WA’s coronavirus quarantine hub would be built in their backyard.
The Federal Government initially planned to build the facility at Jandakot airport, but backflipped on its decision, instead choosing vacant Defence Force land near the Pearce Air Force base between Tonkin Highway and Della North Road, close to Gallagher and West Roads.
The plans have caused concern within the community, some of whom are still forced to use bottled water, after toxic firefighting foam known as PFAS was found to have contaminated their water supply back in 2018.
Bullsbrook Residents and Ratepayers Association (BRRA) members said they hoped building of the facility may be the catalyst for installing scheme water to west Bullsbrook homes.
“The ultimate goal should be to install scheme water to the facility, along with residents of west Bullsbrook, to ensure that all have access to safe potable water, which is free of PFAS,” president Craig Hollett said.
“You’re going to bring water in for 1000 people, plus staff, your effluent levels, with people being here all day, are going to be around 70 to 100 litres a day per person.
“That’s an awful lot of water they’re going to need to have in here to make sure that there is adequate water supply.”
Mr Hollett said residents in the area felt ignored in their fight for a decent water system.
“We’ve been arguing for years to get them to run scheme water into west Bullsbrook to deal with the PFAS issue, but it goes to the Department of Defence and it goes to the Minister and it’s just not important,” he said.
It’s not just water that is a concern for locals living close to the proposed 1000-bed facility.
The environmental impact of building such a facility and the lack of community consultation has angered nearby residents.
BRRA former president Anne Sibbel is the nearest neighbour to the proposed facility.
“The fact is they haven’t bothered to consult anybody, to let the community know what’s potentially going on here,” she said.
“I’ve got metastatic cancer and I don’t have very good immunity, so I’m quite concerned about being exposed to issues.
“We don’t know how it’s going to work and how it’s going to run or the number of people who will be there and how that is going to affect our lifestyle and the amenities.”
Minister for Finance Simon Birmingham said an independent feasibility study was conducted on the 1000ha training facility site, which also looked at contamination issues.
“We won’t be using groundwater for drinking purposes at the quarantine facility, and obviously all safety precautions will appropriately be taken,” he said.
“We will look at the construction of, if need be, in a temporary sense, a dedicated potable water system, including storage tanks, pumps and distribution on site.
“Obviously, ideally, in the long term we’d see connection to nearby mains, at Pearce or elsewhere.”
Mr Birmingham said the idea of connecting the residents of west Bullsbrook to mains water wasn’t off the table.
“If there are efficiencies that come from what we are working on that support outcomes in the community, then we’ll look to engage constructively on these matters, too.”
Work is due to begin later this year, with 500 beds due to be operational in the first quarter of next year.