Covid-19 lockdown hindered Dome Valley landfill submissions - opponents

11:03 am on 27 May 2020

Opponents of the controversial Dome Valley landfill proposal in Auckland are urging the council to give them one more month to send in submissions.

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Photo: The Wireless / Luke McPake

The Auckland Council notified of a resource consent application by Chinese owned company Waste Management the day before the country moved into alert level 4 lockdown, and public submissions close today.

Local residents and iwi say it was unreasonable for the council to expect submissions during a crisis.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Whātua chief executive Alan Riwaka said they needed more time.

"Our priority has been around looking after our iwi, our hapū and our whānau. As for other things like Dome Valley, they weren't even on our radar," he said.

"To have this application lodged the day before we went in, and now coming out the other end and the submissions are closed, this thing has been put through under the cover of Covid-19."

The proposed Dome Valley landfill, which would occupy a 1000-hectare site beside the Hoteo River north of Auckland, has been vehemently opposed by local iwi and residents of the small Wellsford community since 2018.

Ngāti Whātua believe it could have devastating environmental impacts on the Hoteo and Kaipara Moana, which are considered ancestral waterways and pātaka kai.

Riwaka said his requests for a one-month extension on submissions had been declined by the council.

"So it was one thing to have lodged the application the day before we went into the lockdown, it's another thing to refuse to extend the timeframe by a month to enable our people to make sure they can have an input into this application."

In a statement, general manager for resource consents at Auckland Council Ian Smallburn said the council was not legally able to extend the submission time frame.

"We acknowledge and agree that the timing of public notification for Waste Management NZ's Dome Valley landfill proposal was very unfortunate.

"It was not intentional to have the start date coincide with the first day of an unprecedented nationwide lockdown. The notification start date and arrangements were all set well before the government's Covid-19 response escalated.

"Once notification of this, or any resource consent, is under way, Auckland Council cannot stop the process. The resource consent process and requirements are all set out in the Resource Management Act. Council has no authority or legal ability to intervene in the notification process once it has started."

He said only central government and the applicant themselves could extend the time frame.

"Council cannot extend submission periods for resource consent applications by more than 40 working days (which we have already done). Only central government can make changes to the resource consent process.

"Only the applicant, in this case WMNZ (Waste Management NZ), can request an extension to the notification process beyond 40 working days."

In a statement, Waste Management said generally it would not oppose any late submissions given the disruption caused by Covid 19.

"Waste Management has discussed the submission period with Auckland Council several times. This included confirming with council in January that the submission period would be doubled from the normal 20 working days to 40 days," the company said.

"Following commencement of the submission period, we then also confirmed with council that we generally wouldn't oppose any late submissions being accepted by the Hearing Panel, in case the Covid-19 level 4 restrictions continued for many months and impacted anyone being able to submit by the deadline.

"We maintain this commitment, but are mindful that both council and Waste Management need to assess any late submissions, and both council and Waste Management will need time to be able to respond to them."

The company said it had been actively informing and updating the community, and reaching out to iwi.

"Since the submission period opened, we have monitored daily the number of submissions, and also provided email updates to the community to encourage and advise on the deadlines and the process.

"We have also continued to reach out to iwi, the community and others to offer and provide more information and answer questions. We were saddened to see the media releases on the weekend and dispute the view that there has been no proper consultation.

"We started reaching out to iwi in October 2018, and have continued to engage widely, including through hui, site visits at our Redvale Landfill and Energy Park, site visits to the proposed location at Wayby Valley and individual exchanges."

Meanwhile lobby group Fight the Tip, made up of local residents opposed to the landfill, are backing calls to extend the time frame for submissions by at least a month.

Its leader Michelle Carmichael said the Covid-19 restrictions on large gatherings had hindered the community's ability to discuss the implications of the landfill together, and understand the submissions process.

"We've put information up online and via email to help them through the submissions process and I've still had people come back to me wondering how they go about it," she said.

"If we actually had a public meeting we would be able to help people then and there. It has stopped that democratic process."

She said for the last couple of years Waste Management had been willing to work alongside residents to come up with a solution that met everybody's needs.

But she said its refusal to allow an extension on submissions had cast doubt on that commitment.

"To be honest, Waste Management are a big company and they can suck it up for a month and say 'look, let's do the right thing'," she said.

"From the beginning they kept saying 'we are here, we wanna do the right thing for the community, we want to hear what the community has to say'. But to announce this the day before lockdown and not actually give an extension, do they really want to hear what the community says?"

Ngāti Manuhiri, another Auckland iwi who claim to have mana whenua over the proposed landfill site, was expected to release a statement on their position to the landfill soon.

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