Landowners who refuse to move from the most contaminated site in the southern hemisphere will have their properties compulsorily acquired by the West Australian government.
A bill to finalise the closure of the former asbestos mining town Wittenoom in the Pilbara, which was de-gazetted in 2007, will be introduced to state parliament on Wednesday.
Five landowners, three of whom still live in the former town site, will be paid generous compensation packages that will cost the state government $2-3 million in total, lands minister Ben Wyatt says.
Mr Wyatt said many of the 17 freehold properties that remained were bought “effectively for $1 given the nature of the value of them”.
“We’re proposing for a principal property $325,000 then $65,000 for every subsequent property after that,” he told ABC radio.
“We also have a compensation entitlement for if there is no house, it’s just a piece of land, and on top of that, we’ll provide moving fees and relocation fees of $50,000.”
More than 2000 workers and residents of Wittenoom have died from asbestos-related diseases and Mr Wyatt is particularly concerned about tourists who still visit the area, despite signs warning of the deadly risks.
Traditional owners want the state government to undertake the massive clean-up of about three million tonnes of asbestos tailings that remain in Wittenoom Gorge.
But Mr Wyatt says that’s not likely to happen.
“Even if the state committed billions of dollars to a clean-up project, it is virtually impossible that the area will ever be safe for human habitation,” he said in a statement.
Mr Wyatt said the remaining houses in the town site will be demolished, roads will be removed and more warning signs will be erected in a bid to keep people away.
The late Lang Hancock and his business partner Peter Wright built an asbestos crushing mill at Wittenoom in 1939, which was bought by CSR four years later.