Court mediation over dross begins

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Graffiti on the old paper mill in Mataura makes the community's feelings about the dross very clear.

QUESTIONS about who is responsible over the ouvea premix stored in Mataura may not in Invercargill.

Answers may also be found as to whether it should have been taken from its original site.

These were discussed at an Environment Court mediation after the Environmental Defence Society (EDS) filed declaration proceedings against New Zealand’s Aluminium Smelter (NZAS).

In EDS’ application it says NZAS breached its discharge permit when the aluminium dross was removed off-site from the Tiwai Point smelter, and it is responsible for removing the dross by-products from the old paper mill in Mataura.

About 8500 tonnes of premix was stored in the building, owned by Southland Storage Ltd, on the banks of the Mataura River.

The premix, a hazardous substance, could produce poisonous ammonia gas if it came into contact with water. Ouvea premix could be further processed to be used in fertiliser production.

Under contract with NZAS, Taha Asia Pacific began storing the premix at the mill in 2014.

Initially it was stored without resource consent. A $2.3 million bond was attached to the retrospective consent which was finally issued to Taha in 2015, which allowed for 10,000 tonnes to be stored there for two years.

However, the company went into liquidation in 2016 with no bond paid premix has remained there and at other sites throughout Southland since.

The situation was brought to light most recently during the February floods when homes near the paper mill were evacuated as a precautionary measure.

The EDS filed its Environment Court application in July.

It argued NZAS’ discharge permit did not allow off-site disposal of dross or dross by-products. There had been no variation to its permit which would allow Taha to remove dross or dross by-products from its Tiwai site.

It also argued, under the Resource Management Act, a breach of the permit created a legal duty or responsibility.

In his support to the application, EDS chief executive Gary Taylor said, “according to Gore District Council” the premix would be removed by the end of 2022.

“EDS considers this problematic as we have not seen the agreement to confirm the contractual obligations involved; and to our knowledge there is no weekly or regular monitoring in place to manage potential ammonia release, ongoing flood risk and/or water ingress through other means.”

In response to a letter from Mr Taylor, Chapman Tripp law partners responded on behalf of NZAS, saying while it remained committed to working with councils and land-owners through the present removal scheme, it was done from willingness to help, rather than any obligation to remove it.

NZAS filed a notice of opposition.

In it, it states it acted reasonably in contracting Taha, which had the responsibility over the material as it was processed into the ouvea premix. It said there was no breach of its discharge permit when it allowed Taha to take the material off site.

Interested parties include the Minister for the Environment, the Gore District Council, Southland Storage Ltd and Southland Regional Council.

The judicial settlement conference was held on Tuesday and yesterday but, due to time of print, the outcome of it was not yet available.

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