Taranaki Regional Council iwi representative says nothing will change at compost leaching site

Hōhā: after years of violations Keith Holswich is fed up with the polluting composter. Photo / Provided

An iwi representative at Taranaki Regional Council said a smelly and leaky industrial composting site will continue to flout environmental rules and insult the council and mana whenua.

Remediation New Zealand’s polluting site received the lowest ‘poor’ rating in the council’s latest annual monitoring report, for ‘significant non-compliance’ with its consents.

The remote site at Urutī, about 40 kilometers northeast of New Plymouth, has been found to have been mixing chemically treated sawdust with residual drilling fluids for 15 years, in violation of consents.

Keith Holswich – an iwi representative on the council’s consents and regulations committee since 2017 – said nothing had changed in Urutī and nothing would.

“Remediation New Zealand will continue to do what they do…they will continue to flout the rules, they will flout the environment, they will put it in the face of Ngāti Mutunga and they will certainly put it in the face of the CRT.”

“I’m fed up (hōhā) about this…and I’m just saying that Mr. President shuts them up or punches them in the pocket so hard they don’t want to be there anymore.”

“I’ve been polite for four and a half years about this – I’m not polite anymore, I’m sick of it.”

Last May, a TRC hearing panel refused to renew Remediation NZ’s consents, but the company appealed to the Environmental Court and can continue to operate in the meantime.

Since 2001, the site has been recovering commercial waste, including oil and gas drill cuttings, drilling fluids and poultry farming waste, for composting and worm farming.

He has repeatedly violated his terms of consent, including polluting a stream that flows into the Mimitangiātua River.

TRC discovered earlier that no composting had taken place for at least 10 years, with more than 20,000 tonnes of contaminated waste stored on site, which could take up to 40 years to decompose.

Another iwi representative, Emily Bailey, asked what changes had been made to rules and policies to avoid a repeat case.

“Obviously the remediation site was never a good idea in the first place, so have we put measures in place to prevent this from happening again?”

“And also, to be able to recoup the costs – because there is a huge amount of money invested in monitoring and prosecuting these companies who are just flouting all of this.

Councilor Donald McIntyre backed the iwi criticism.

“Are we negligent about this? How come they got away with it for so long and we didn’t sit harder and enforce these rules with heavier fines?

TRC Director of Resource Management Fred McLay said compliance officers monitor and enforce more than any other regional council.

The Urutī industrial composting site is once again under fire for breaking environmental rules.  Photo / Provided
The Urutī industrial composting site is once again under fire for breaking environmental rules. Photo / Provided

He said the hearing panel’s denial of consents was “a pretty strong signal.”

“These cases need to progress through the environmental court system to find some sort of resolution.”

McLay said there had been improvements at the Urutī Valley site over the past 18 months and environmental contamination from treated sawdust was well below levels of concern.

“In the Valley, there are some very complicated interpersonal things going on with parties, and in particular some parties have become very sensitized to odors, even very, very mild intermittent perceptible odors.”

Committee chairman Councilor David Lean told McLay “you’ve developed a wonderful sense of the use of words”.

Lean cautioned committee members against saying too much while the matter was before the court.

“While this remains on the table, there is not much we can do.”

“Even if we were totally upset or trying to act, uh, it’s dangerous to say too much in a public sense.”

Last year, Taranaki’s medical officer found the site was likely emitting hydrogen sulphide, ammonia, formaldehyde, benzene and other aromatic hydrocarbons.

The effects of odors could be significant and include headaches, nausea, depression, stress, and loss of appetite.

The latest monitoring report, for 2020-2021, revealed that 83 complaints had been received by the TRC, with an unpleasant odor smelled by investigators on five occasions.

The report revealed elevated levels of barium, sodium, light organic solvents, petroleum hydrocarbons and certain heavy metals.

Chloride was found in groundwater, but soil chloride was improving.

Over-irrigation had led to nitrogen loading rates estimated at 500 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare, and ammoniacal nitrogen was impacting stream life.

DairyNZ’s online guide to preventing nitrogen leaching into waterways says on-farm trials have shown large increases in leaching at rates in excess of 200 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare.

TRC issued four reduction notices and 11 violation notices and requested three letters of explanation from June 2020 to June 2021.

Public interest journalism funded by NZ On Air

Elna M. Lemons