Councillor's comments on composting concerns raises a stink

12:02 pm on 13 September 2021

Neighbours of a controversial composting and worm farming business in North Taranaki have had their noses put out of joint by a regional councillor questioning whether their olfactory organs are "calibrated correctly".

The Uruti site

The Uruti site. Photo: screenshot

Taranaki Regional Council councillor Tom Cloke thinks there's something off about only one out of the past 11 odour complaints concerning the Remediation NZ site being upheld by council staff.

At a consents and regulatory meeting held on Zoom, Cloke implied the neighbours' noses worked differently from those of council officers.

"I just question - and it might sound a bit flippant - but whether the calibration of the neighbours' noses is the same calibration the staff are because there was only one complaint [upheld] and there was a lot of complaints about odour coming from the neighbours.

"I mean you [council staff] seem to be going out for a lot of those incidents with nothing to report."

Cloke had somehow overlooked a recent hearing panel decision that declined Remediation NZ consent renewals because its activities had an adverse effect on water quality and ecology, and that the effects of its discharges to air were unacceptable.

He also ignored an independent review of air quality prepared for the Taranaki DHB which found there was most likely a relationship between illness in the Uruti community and odours emitting from the composting site.

So he doubled down.

"How do we get on top of that to make sure we've got cohesion between the neighbours' smelling and the council smelling?

"It seems like a heck of a lot of complaints and a lot of work and there's no incident at all?"

That did not pass compliance manager Bruce Pope's sniff test.

"But we do from time to time find non-compliances, so that does happen. It's not as if we go there every time and don't find one. We do find some, so for that reason we continue to respond."

John Oxenham is Remediation NZ's closest neighbour.

He said his nose worked just fine.

"When the stink does come it's a real horrible sewage smell. It's quite unbearable at times. It gets inside your house and you've got to shut your windows.

"It's just annoying. It's depressing. We once had clean air and now it's been taken away from us."

He had an idea where Cloke could stick his proboscis.

"He's probably living in clean mountain air and doesn't have to put up with this smell. We've put up with it for 20 odd years and we've just about had enough of it.

"So, Tom Cloke needs to ... pull his head in and come out one night and just actually smell it for himself."

The North Taranaki Awa Protection Society has campaigned to have Remediation NZ closed down.

Its chair John McLean reckoned Cloke's comments stank.

"For him to toss off the air factor and the stench that people have to live with up there as something about the locals having poorly calibrated noses, I think was the way he put it, or a calibration of noses that was different from their inspectorial staff I think is just very distasteful.

"The regional council at this point in time is supposed to be going into bat alongside us to uphold a decision that was taken from the original consents hearing which namely was to shut down that operation.

"To hear people making that sort of comment gives the suggestion that they are not at all whole-heartedly in support of the position they are now meant to be taking."

McLean said the Awa Protection Society and iwi had done the council's job in policing the shortcomings of Remediation NZ.

"As it turned out the operation was found to be so poor that it could no longer be given consents to practice.

"Now that means this little community group and Ngati Mutanga have had to take the place of the policeman to get something done, so now we're asking the policeman to actually stand up, wear their badge and do their business."

McLean said the society had raised $14,000 to prepare for the consents hearing and would need another $20,000 to $30,000 to fight the Remediation NZ's appeal.

The regional council is currently in mediation with the company ahead of an Environment Court hearing.

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