30 Oct 2020

Constructive progress continues in plan for removal of waste from Mataura - judge

6:47 pm on 30 October 2020

More than 10,000 tonnes of potentially toxic waste may finally be gone from Mataura's disused papermill by Christmas.

Ouvea premix - or dross - is stored in loose bags around Southland.

Ouvea premix - or dross - is stored in loose bags around Southland. Photo: Sort out the Dross facebook page

The so-called ouvea premix - a waste by-product of aluminium production at Tiwai Point - was moved into the disused papermill in Mataura by a now defunct company without resource consent in 2015.

New Zealand Aluminium Smelters and Rio Tinto reached an agreement with local authorities and the government in March 2018 to move the waste from Mataura and other sites around Southland over six years.

But this year that waste - which releases deadly ammonia gas when it gets wet - has been threatened by flooding and fire.

As a result the Environmental Defence Society launched court proceedings against New Zealand Aluminium Smelters and Rio Tinto, seeking a ruling on who has responsibility for the ouvea premix and seeking to have it removed by the end of this year.

The ongoing Environment Court action continued behind closed doors this morning.

Alternate Environment Judge Laurie Newhook issued a minute afterwards, which said progress was being made on expediting the waste's removal.

"Constructive progress continues on planning for removal of the ouvea pre-mix from Mataura to an industrial site, but I was informed that final details of complex contractual arrangements among at least seven corporate and government agency parties remain to be concluded," Judge Newhook said.

"I was advised that those parties are meeting next week with a view to negotiate and settle the final details for putting the contracts in place.

"The parties remain focussed on the urgency of the situation and are continuing to act constructively and with expedition. Their expectation is that the accelerated removal from Mataura will be commencing in the second week of November. The aim is still to complete it by hristmas but that may be weather-dependent.

"I have directed hard work and urgency on finalising contractual arrangements."

In July it was revealed more than 8500 tonnes remained in the mill.

The matter will go before Judge Newhook again on 9 November.