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Who will Pay for Downstream Costs of Clumsy Counci

Who will Pay for Downstream Costs of Clumsy Council?

Te Ururoa Flavell, Member of Parliament for Waiariki

Tuesday 31 January 2006

Waiariki Member of Parliament, and Maori Party Spokesperson for the Environment, Te Ururoa Flavell, today condemned the clumsy actions of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council in granting consent for water discharge, without prior analysis or evidence of addressing issues impacting on public health.

The High Court [Rotorua Registry] has now released its ruling on the application for judicial review of two decisions made by consent authorities about the old sawmill at Whakatane. The Court has granted an interim injunction, effectively meaning all construction work at the site has stopped.

“The result is damning for the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, stating that consent order was given before the peer review report that had been requested was released” stated Mr Flavell.

“What was the local council thinking, giving consent without fully understanding the extent of the public health risk to their community?”

“It begs the question - what is the value of a human life if possible public health risks are ignored in the hurry to grant consent?”.

The Maori Party MP stated such an example is another reminder of the need for a Genuine Progress Index, which distinguishes between positive contributions to progress (eg protection of public health interests) and negative activity (eg contamination which results from the process of treating timber). The GPI is an indicator of net advancement and progress.

The Maori Party supports the development of GPIs for use at national and community levels (including whanau, hapu and iwi and district and regional councils).

Mr Flavell, also took the opportunity to commend Sawmill Workers against Poison (SWAP) in demonstrating the extra-ordinary powers of Maori in taking on a big commercial operation, and local and regional government.

SWAP, represented by Hohepa Joseph Harawira, took their case against the Whakatane District Council to the High Court, asking for all earthworks, soil disturbance and the illegal dewatering of the site of the old Whakatane sawmill site to be stopped in the interests of public health and environmental safety" stated Mr Flavell.

In his ruling Justice Heath made it clear that he has

“concerns about whether it was appropriate for the water discharge application to be processed on a non-notified basis. Further, although it is far from clear whether there are, in fact, any public health issues, the nature of those issues require further consideration of the impact of them on the non-notification decision” [paragraph 56, Judgment of Heath J].

“This is a victory for the little people, taking on such a huge battle for the public health of their community” stated Mr Flavell.

“What SWAP has achieved will have huge significance for the people of Whakatane, who swim in the Whakatane River (where the discharge from the earthworks was being released); who would have been affected by the contamination of the environment by the chemicals that still reside on the site”.

“The ruling also establishes an important precedent for the thirty potential sites where material from the sawmill was dumped, to be declared contaminated sites under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act” stated Mr Flavell. “The Maori Party will be asking the Government to establish a total risk assessment of this site and the other thirty sites, by independent experts”.

“The tragedy of this case is that although there was sufficient evidence back in July 2005 (following the ESR peer review report) to indicate that the community should have been notified of the public health risks, nothing was done until SWAP forced the issue of injustice to Court” stated Mr Flavell.

It appears that the risk to public health was exacerbated when the Bay of Plenty Regional Council granted the developers a water discharge consent last December but did not notify the public.

“The peer assessment report on levels of soil contamination at the site absolutely vindicates the work that SWAP has done, in raising the need for public alert” said Mr Flavell. “Every community where forestry is going on will be examining the Judge’s ruling, to justify the call for analysis of the effect of the discharge of contaminants in the environment”.

“The Maori Party will also be asking, who guards the guardians” stated Mr Flavell. “We want to see socially responsible businesses; local government; and environmental agencies being able to work together, to ensure no developments occur which pose a risk to public health”.

“All of these players should have demanded that the former sawmill site be preserved in a safe state through appropriate remediation and/or containment”.

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