Smelter waste stockpile 'ticking time bomb'

9:06 pm on 8 September 2016

A Southland council is being criticised as having failed its community over a major aluminium smelter waste stockpile.

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'Welcome to Gore': The district's council is grappling with a stockpile of hazardous waste from the aluminium smelter at Tiwai Point. Photo: Wikicommons

A report today by Gore District Council said a flood wall was being built along to protect Mataura River from 10,000 tonnes of hazardous waste from the smelter at Tiwai Point, which was being stored in Mataura's former paper mill.

It was stored in 10,000 one-tonne bags in two buildings directly adjacent to the river on both sides.

Taha Asia Pacific controversially got consent last year to store Ouvea Premix - a type of fertiliser made from dross - there until January 2018, but the company went into liquidation last month.

Mataura man Daryl Meikle said he had warned the council at a resource consent hearing about the risks of the company going bust, and now it was all coming true.

Mr Meikle said that if the river flooded again it would be contaminated with ammonia and toxic substances.

He said 10,000 tonnes would be enough to reach the sea and ruin Southland's aquaculture industry.

He believed the stockpile was a major risk in a fire, and he had no confidence the stockpile was safe.

"It's a ticking time bomb being so close to the river. It is one of the highest risk areas in Southland where it's stored, and to be in the middle of a largely populated town is not acceptable," Mr Meikle said.

He said the council's job was to speak on behalf of its community, but it had let down Mataura and the whole of Southland.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei had also been opposed to the storage, and said the council had failed its community.

"One of their worst fears was that the company would go bust and nobody would be responsible for removing this waste from their community," she said.

She said the community had pushed for and received a requirement for Taha to pay a $2.3 million bond, but the council did not get it paid.

Now the company had gone bust, it left the community to clean up the mess, she said.

Gore District Council chief executive Steve Parry said it was nonsense to say the council did not do its job because it had to follow legal process and could not just jump up and down.

In his report to councillors today, Mr Parry said the council was making good progress on the Mataura stockpile.

He said a flood protection wall was being built this week, paid for by Taha's liquidators, and the council had now served them with the bill for the $2.3m bond.

Tiwai Point aluminium smelter.

The Tiwai Point aluminium smelter Photo: Wikicommons

He said the stockpile was safe until the consent expires in January 2018, and he was quietly confident the council would not have to spend its own money to remove the waste after that.

A liquidator for the company, Rhys Cain said as well as the Mataura pile there was another 14,000 tonnes of the material in five piles in Invercargill, Awarua and at the Tiwai smelter.

He said the company did not have enough money for the $2.3m bond, but he was trying to get someone to buy the waste and take it away.

He too said he was cautiously optimistic.

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