The Port of Tauranga, New Zealand's busiest port, is yet to achieve full Resource Management Act compliance 27 years after the Act came into law, but has never been fined or prosecuted for the delay.
The port, which is 54 percent owned by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council (BoPRC), has failed three attempts to obtain a consent for its stormwater system on its Mount Maunganui wharves since the RMA came into effect in 1991.
While the BoPRC said it was "unacceptable in terms of time frame in anyone's universe", it has never fined or prosecuted the port for the lengthy delay.
"There seems to have been a series of holdups really, there's no one thing that's caused a hold up of that time," Eddie Grogan, Bay of Plenty Regional Council's principal advisor for regulatory services, told Checkpoint.
The first stormwater consent application was lodged in 1998 but stalled, the council said, because the port was slow in providing requested information.
An attempt was then made to "couple" the port's consent with one for the Tauranga City Council, but that also failed because TCC and the Port could not agree.
"It was mostly about how to attribute an effect to a particular contributor," Mr Grogan said.
In other words, who is liable for what pollution - the stormwater pipes that run under the Port's Mount Maunganui wharves start further inland and pick up stormwater from other industrial sites first.
The consent was "uncoupled" and the council realised Beca, who was contracted to do the original 1998 consent, lost the paperwork.
"A mistake was made [by council] to not have a backup, and then a whole lot of information was actually lost, in terms of the progress, and so we had to start again, effectively," Mr Grogan said.
Then a third application, lodged in 2013, stalled for five years due to consultation, the port said.
Asked if five years was too long for that consultation, Mr Grogan said: "Yes, it is."
The fourth attempt is now up for submissions from the TCC and local iwi, after going to an independent commissioner, but the port is unlikely to achieve compliance this year.
"Something as big and complex as this often does go to the Environment Court, and if that were to occur it could be more than a year until you get a hearing date, get the information in front of a judge, and get a final decision," Mr Grogan said.
The port declined repeated invitations to be interviewed by Checkpoint.
It said for legal reasons it would be interviewed over the phone, but not on camera, and refused to elaborate as to what those legal reasons were.
In a statement an unnamed spokesperson for the port said: "We totally agree that it is unacceptable that it has taken this long and it is very frustrating for all involved.
"There are multiple reasons why the consent has not been processed yet. They include the complexities of the application, the need to consult in depth with local iwi and the vagaries of the Resource Management Act.
"However, the delays have not prevented the Port's ongoing investment in stormwater management. We are pleased that independent research is of the view that water quality in the harbour is good."