17 Feb 2020

Handshake deal to clean up dross after Mataura floods goes sour

5:04 pm on 17 February 2020

The producer of more than 20,000 tonnes of hazardous waste stored around Southland have today issued a statement on the dross, but continues to refuse interviews or discuss a soured handshake deal.

The flooded Mataura River rips past the former Mataura paper mill

The flooded Mataura River rips past the former Mataura paper mill earlier in February. Photo: ODT / Stephen Jaquiery

Almost 10,000 tonnes of the so-called ouvea premix is stored in Mataura's disused paper mill.

The chemical can produce an ammonia gas cloud when wet and flood waters nearly entered the mill during flooding of the Mataura River early this month.

In the days following the floods, Gore District Council chief executive Steve Parry announced a handshake agreement with New Zealand Aluminium Smelters to fast track its removal.

But the following week, Parry said Rio Tinto - the smelter's majority owner - had vetoed the agreement.

The situation has caused outraged in Mataura, where the Sort Out The Dross action group held a public meeting on Friday night, and even prompted the Minister for the Environment, David Parker, to suggest the government might take legal action against Rio Tinto.

In a statement, New Zealand Aluminium Smelter general manager Stewart Hamilton today said the company remained committed to its 2018 agreement with Southland councils and the government.

"Since 2016, the ownership of the premix material is with the Crown (the New Zealand government), following the bankruptcy of Taha, a company that had responsibility for processing the material into the Ouvea Premix. The accountability for the removal and disposal of the Premix material is with the Gore District Council, based on an agreement entered into in 2018," the statement said.

"In March 2018, a NZ$4 million package was agreed between the Southland and Gore District Councils, the Southland Regional Council, Invercargill City Council, the New Zealand government and NZAS to fund the removal and disposal of the premix material. NZAS has made a commitment to provide NZ$1.75 million to this financial package.

"Since the agreement was put in place, 500 tonnes of the premix material has been safely moved and processed by the company contracted by the Gore District Council.

"NZAS remains committed to its promise to provide NZ$1.75 million to assist the Southland Councils and the New Zealand government to safely manage the removal and disposal of the premix material.

"We continue to engage with all stakeholders, including the government and local community."

The statement made no mention of the handshake deal with the Gore District Council to expedite the waste's removal from Mataura.

RNZ has made attempts to speak to Hamilton and to seek his version of events to see if they are in conflict with Parry's. These efforts have been rebuffed.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs