27 May 2021

Taranaki composting business eyes appeal of consents decision

12:24 pm on 27 May 2021

The boss of a composting and worm farming business in North Taranaki says he's very likely to appeal a decision which removes his right to operate.

The Uruti site

File image. Photo: screenshot

Remediation NZ has been told by a hearing panel that it will not get fresh resource consents as the business is damaging both health and the local environment.

Opponents of the Uruti plant have cautiously welcomed the news but note the business is allowed to operate until any appeals process is complete.

The Hearing Panel's decision to decline the consents renewal could not have been more emphatic.

It said the business would have an adverse affect on waterways and their ecology and that the effects of its odour emissions were unacceptable.

It did not think promises to act made by the company would be enough to make a difference.

A lack of meaningful consultation with local iwi Ngāti Mutunga was another nail in the coffin for Remediation NZ.

The iwi's environmental officer, Marlene Benson, said the decision was vindication after a five-year battle.

"We're just very very happy. We think it was a very good decision and they've given really good clear reasons for making it, the hearing commissioners," Benson said.

"So, I think they've done a really good job. They've been really clear it's been affecting the water quality, the air quality and the quality of the lives of the community and Ngāti Mutunga and where very happy."

The case was a lesson for community groups to keeping pushing back against companies and regulators, Benson said.

The next question was what to do with the stockpile of contaminated oil and gas drilling waste on the site.

"We are all in the dark about that because the decision does not talk about how the sites gets remediated and that is a key thing for us so we'll be talking to the Taranaki Regional Council about that.

"Any which way we need to know what's happening to that 20,000 tonnes."

Dawn Bendall, a neighbour of the compost business, noted that the decision allowed Remediation NZ to continue operating.

She rang the Taranaki Regional Council and asked about it.

"Who advised they can still operate until there has been a decision made. If the applicant appeals and it goes to the Environment Court they can essentially operate up and until that point which isn't really helping our situation."

However, Bendall welcomed the decision.

"Oh definitely, more and more people are climbing onboard and they can see the big picture. They can see what's happening.

"It's just been a dirty little secret in this little valley in Uruti. Now people are becoming more aware, they're watching and they're really concerned."

Remediation NZ 'fairly disappointed'

Remediation NZ managing director Kerry O'Neill was not happy.

"My initial take on it to be honest is that we're fairly disappointed and we've been disappointed before during and after the process," O'Neill said.

"We've got 15 days to make a decision on an appeal and take it to the Environment Court. My personal view is that we would be happy to have the Environment Court scrutinise this decision."

O'Neill took issue with the panel's assessment of water quality, ecology and odour issues, and found its take on iwi relations upsetting too.

"Particularly that we hadn't been in consultation with Ngāti Mutunga. We've reached out and probably had five or six different meetings. We've had site visits with them.

"We'll go over these reasons. Some of them we look at and we go lets see how they stand up to scrutiny. This whole process will be reviewed."

He did not believe odour from the plant caused health issues.

"We've had staff that have worked at our sites for 14 years and longer and it's never been an issue," O'Neill said.

"We do health checks on all our staff and I'm privy to the results and this has never been an issue.

"So some of the stuff we've had to put up with is just blatantly untrue."

But for Bendall, there was only one solution.

"Ideally we would like to see them exit and leave. They need to clean it up. And we understand there is going to be a process and it's going to take time."

Any appeal against the decision must be lodged with the Environment Court within 15 working days.

Remediation NZ can continue operating under expired resource consents for as long as the legal process continues.

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