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Special care in development of contaminated site


Special care taken during commercial development of Whakatane contaminated site

For immediate release: Tuesday 21 March 2006

A risk evaluation of a contaminated site currently being turned into a bulk retail outlet has supported Environment Bay of Plenty’s stance for careful management now and in the future.

The report, by the Institute of Environment Science and Research Ltd, was commissioned by Environment Bay of Plenty and presented to the council’s regulation and monitoring committee today (Tuesday 21 March 2006).

It assessed the “worst case” risks to human health of the former Pinex Sawmill site at Whakatane, which is being developed into a large-scale retail outlet called The Hub. The land, which is located just outside of town on State Highway 30, was contaminated over four decades by timber treatment chemicals.

A preliminary draft of the report was completed late last year, not long after earthworks began on the site. However, the council chose not to make public that draft because it contained “errors and misleading statements”, says regulation and monitoring committee chairman, Ian Noble. “While technically correct, the results badly needed to be put into context. In this case, the context was that, if properly managed, the site is indeed safe.” Environment Bay of Plenty resource consents for the development of the Hub had special provisions that made sure this happened, he says. “It is fortunate that a responsible development company has been willing to take on the management of a contaminated site.”

Manager of environmental coordination, Bruce Gardner, says the regional council commissioned the report to support its case for “special caution” during development, particularly with earthworks. “We knew the land had already been cleaned up considerably but were concerned that dioxins still remained in the soil.”

Mr Gardner says consent conditions included controls on dust creation and stormwater to ensure any contamination did not spread further afield. Another condition was the development of a management plan for future below ground activity, such as maintenance work on underground cables. Occupational Safety and Health was also present on-site, particularly in the early stages.

Initially, the part of the site being developed was covered in a layer of fill from 200m to one metre in depth. It will later be sealed, eliminating the risk of contamination from that exposure pathway for day-to-day users, Mr Gardner explains. The management plan covers long-term issues. “While the land is not suitable for residential use, its use as a managed sealed site is entirely sensible.”

The report also highlighted the toxicity of sediments in the Kopeopeo Canal, which had received stormwater from the site over many years. Before the report, the Medical Officer of Health had already issued public health warnings for the taking of eels and advised against use of this part of the canal. The Ministry for the Environment has now allocated $100,000 for Environment Bay of Plenty to undertake further investigations into the contamination of the Kopeopeo Canal, including recommending options for remediation.


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