Opponents of an application to renew consents for an oil and gas drilling waste processing operation in Taranaki say they are being asked to pay an "extortionate" amount for an independent hearing.
Remediation New Zealand, which also operates a vermiculture and composting business at its Uruti site, wants consents to discharge contaminants into the Haehanga Stream, a tributary of the Mimitangiatua River, and to land and air.
Opponents of the consents application say that runoff from the plant is affecting the health of nearby waterways and the area around that the plant regularly stinks of hydrocarbons.
At a pre-hearing earlier this month, Remediation NZ and opponents of the consents were unable to find common ground and the application is headed to a full hearing later this year.
Now the Taranaki Regional Council has written to submitters, who opted for a hearing in front of independent commissioners, telling they will have to pay $12,650 for the hearing.
Paora Laurence, who whakapapas to the Mimitangiatua River, said he was horrified when he received the email.
"I'm actually quite disgusted that they are charging me extortionate fees to pay for commissioners to enable this hearing to go ahead. I think it is a ridiculous amount of money they are charging.
"I'm actually quite annoyed that the first thing they did was throw this huge sum of money at me. I feel it was to try and put me off the track."
Laurence said he had lost confidence in the council because of the number of previous Remediation NZ consents breaches.
"Basically, the council has failed in its responsibility to look after the Mimitangiatua and how they've addressed the consents in the past and how they have monitored Remediation NZ. I think it's been inadequate.
"And I also feel there's a need for transparency because how can a person that's representing the council also be a commissioner at the hearing?"
In the email to the three submitters who requested independent hearing commissioners, consents manager Colin McLellan said additional costs lie behind the charge.
"Because of these requests the council must appoint independent commissioners. Based on previous experience I estimate that using independent commissioners will cost about $12,650 (including GST) more than using councillors. This is mostly because the hourly rate charged by independent commissioners is more than twice that which can be paid to councillors."
McLellan went on to point out the that requirement to pay was clearly stated on the form the submitters completed.
He said, however, the charge could be avoided.
"You have the opportunity to withdraw your request. If it is withdrawn the additional cost will be shared by any remaining requesters."
McLellan said all requests for independent commissioners were withdrawn the hearing will proceed with two councillors and one independent commissioner.
If they were not withdrawn the council's Consents and Regulatory Committee would appoint two independent commissioners at its next meeting.
Its consents application, Remediation NZ said it would no longer take drilling wastes from December which it would replace with a foodwaste stream.
The company said that and other steps it was taking to meet its consents conditions would improve odour and run off issues.
About 20,000 tonnes of drilling muds remained on site contained in bunds and the operation would still accept stormwater runoff from oil and gas sites.
The application said the composting and vermiculture components of the business have had a minimal effect on the environment.
The Taranaki Regional Council has received 17 complaints about Remediation NZ since June 2016, primarily due to odours but also discharges to water or land.
Non-compliance was found on seven occasions and it has been issued five abatement notices and five infringement notices.
In 2010, the company was convicted over objectionable odours at Urutī and fined more than $33,000.
Last year, Remediation NZ failed its annual monitoring report after council officers found contaminates including chloride - associated with drilling cuttings processing - and in one case significant levels of ammoniacal nitrogen in the Haehanga Stream and associated tributaries.
The drilling mud processing pad was also found to require further composting as it contained measurable hydrocarbons.