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Hearings Decision On Open Country Dairy Consents Released

A hearings committee has ruled on an application for two resource consents from Open Country Dairy (OCD) to enable the continued operation and expansion of its Waharoa factory.

In a decision released yesterday by an independent Waikato Regional Council hearings committee, OCD was granted a consent to discharge contaminants to air. In making this decision the commissioners found that adverse effects due to this discharge were unlikely to occur with the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant, and the controls that are to be put in place around its operation.

However, the hearings committee – comprising commissioners Dr Jim Cook and Mr Stephen Wilson – declined the application to discharge contaminants to water.

The dairy company had sought to introduce a summertime discharge to the Waitoa River, when previously the wastewater had been irrigated onto land during the summer period.

OCD told the committee the quality of the wastewater it was proposing to discharge to the Waitoa River under a year-round consent would be significantly improved due to a new $17 million treatment plant. Phase one of the upgrade has already been commissioned.

The evidence presented on behalf of OCD concluded that effects of the discharge would be less then minor.

However, during the hearing, BECA Ltd acting on behalf of Waikato Regional Council, told the committee that the cumulative effects of the discharge during the summer period would have more than minor adverse effects on the Waitoa River near Waharoa, and in the Firth of Thames.

After considering all the evidence presented, the hearings committee found that adverse effects were likely to occur in summer in the Waitoa Stream near Waharoa, in the lower Piako River, and potentially the Kopuatai Wetland and in the Firth of Thames.

The effects in the Waitoa Stream included increased nutrient concentrations in summer, the committee said in its decision, presenting a risk of increased aquatic plant and algal growth, which could impact on macroinvertebrates and fish.

The committee agreed with Fish & Game that there was strong evidence the nutrients discharged under summer low-flow conditions would severely compromise the life-supporting capacity of the lower Piako River and said it was plausible that the Kopuatai Wetland would also be affected.

The committee said the inner Firth of Thames was under significant stress during the summer and autumn months, when dissolved oxygen sags below a 70 per cent guideline. The “OCD summer discharge should be considered a cumulative effect that will add to this ecosystem stress”, the committee concluded.

Ten submissions on the OCD consent application were received by Waikato Regional Council – nine opposed and one was neutral. Five submissions in opposition were presented in person by representatives of the local community, Ngāti Hauā iwi and Fish & Game during the two-day hearing in Hamilton in May.

The resource consent hearings decision is available on the Waikato Regional Council website: waikatoregion.govt.nz/resource-consent-hearings.

In a separate matter, OCD is scheduled to take part in a sentencing hearing in Hamilton District Court this Friday (17 July), having pleaded guilty to one charge of unlawfully discharging contaminants to air, an offence under the Resource Management Act 1991. The charge relates to odour affecting the local community and follows a previous conviction for unlawful discharges to land and air in 2018. Members of the community who have been identified as victims of the offending by OCD will be presenting victim impact statements at this hearing.

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