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The lights will go out

The lights will go out
Fri, Apr 18 2014

So says Regional Council chairman Fenton Wilson, lamenting the Board of Inquiry’s decision to require serious environmental protection for the Tukituki catchment.

The Board of Inquiry, to the surprise of the Regional Council, has ordered that HBRC get tough about regulating both nitrogen/nitrates and phosphorus so as to protect waterways in the Tukituki catchment. The plan proposed by HBRC — and opposed by environmentalists and most Maori — was soft on nitrogen , opening the door to further degradation of our waterways.

The Board of Inquiry sided emphatically with the case made by environmentalists, rejecting what it termed the “hands off” approach of the HBRC.

And that’s typically how the environment has been protected in Hawke’s Bay in recent years.
1. Citizens successfully appealed to the Environment Court to block cliff-side development at Cape Kidnappers.
2. Citizens undertook the grassroots campaign that thwarted the plan to build develop Ocean Beach into a vast residential community.
3. Two citizens, appealing successfully to the Environment Court, won stringent requirements for CHB to stop pouring its sewage into the Tukituki … over the objections of the CHB District Council and the Regional Council.
4. And now citizens have won strong protection of the Tukituki overcoming the weak plan of the Regional Council and its hired experts.
In short, a victory won in spite of the Regional Council, who all along has sought to denigrate and marginalise environmental advocates.

The ironies in all this are numerous.

First, the HBRC (and its corporate offspring, HBRIC) basically ‘shopped for a judge’ in choosing to take its case to a Board of Inquiry instead of the Environment Court. They took one look at the Environment Court’s recent tough decisions on freshwater protection and decided a politically-selected Board of Inquiry would be more friendly to development objectives. HBRC persisted in pushing a half-a-loaf environmental mitigation plan that had already been rejected by the Environment Court. But, surprise, the Board of Inquiry wound up on the same page as the Environment Court.

Second, HBRC, having spent $1.5 million on an army of experts and witnesses to present ‘sound science’ to the BOI (at at least $3 million on the overall EPA process), found its ‘sound science’ rebutted by a handful of environmentalist-funded experts supported by a comparatively frugal budget in the $200,000 range.

Third, in requiring specified limits on nitrogen leaching according to soil type, the BOI relied on testimony from Garth Eyles, a former employee of HBRC with nationally-recognised expertise in soil/land management, who has been critical of HBRC’s approach to the Tukituki catchment. And in deciding to require management of both nitrogen and phosphorus, the BOI noted that three of HBRC’s own witnesses, now advocating a one nutrient approach in this case, had previously recommended a dual nutrient approach. The BOI commented: “…the Board found the change in position by these experts difficult to understand. We were not persuaded that it could be explained on the basis that the Tukituki catchment involved different considerations.”

Fourth, the HBRC, which touts itself as the necessary independent bastion of defence for the environment (and should therefore be left apart from any future amalgamation), is now trash talking the environmental protection decision of the BOI.

And fifth, having eagerly placed HBRC/HBRIC’s plans in the hands of the BOI, Chairman Wilson now accuses the BOI of ruining CHB’s economy.

For its part, the BOI says: “The Board appreciates that such a regime will involve a cost to farmers. Nonetheless, the Board has concluded that the time has been reached where that cost will have to be met if serious efforts are to be made to avoid further degradation and restore the Tukituki waterways to health.”

Further:

“The limits we have adopted will allow high performance farmers to intensify by implementing some or all of the advanced management strategies identified by Andrew Macfarlane of Macfarlane Rural Business (MRB) and Dr Alison Dewes who gave evidence on behalf of Fish and Game. It also recognises that as a discharger of nutrients and contaminants, the primary sector is no different from any other industry. It has the same obligations to operate within limits and internalise effects, or mitigate those effects where absolute internalisation is not possible.”

The BOI notes that HBRC’s favourite consultant Macfarlane (source of all HBRC/HBRIC farm run-off and production projections) “was able to identify many examples of how good farm management practices could be incorporated into a farming regime” so that both environmental goals and land use intensification could be achieved.

In short, the sky isn’t falling, Fenton. The lights won’t go out.

To the contrary, as the BOI evidence makes clear, smart farmers in CHB can do just fine under the BOI-mandated dual nutrient management regime.

Tom Belford

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