INVERCARGILL Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt says moving the potentially toxic dross from Mataura to Invercargill is good news and has no concerns about the safety of the community.
“I haven’t looked at, or studied, the issue, but I sort of thought it was a good move.”
On Tuesday, New Zealand’s Aluminium Smelter (NZAS) confirmed it would remove the remaining material from Mataura to Tiwai Point for safe storage by the end of April, to await processing and export, in a $1 million deal split equally between the firm and the Government.
The agreement was the outcome of negotiations overseen by Environment Court Judge Laurie Newhook, following legal action brought by the Environmental Defence Society to determine ownership and responsibility for removing the material.
It was better the dross was being relocated to Tiwai rather than stockpiling it in the middle of a town, Sir Tim said.
At a meeting last year, Invercargill City councillor Nobby Clark raised concerns about the ouvea premix being stored at four industrial sites around Invercargill. One of those sites was council-owned land at Awarua.
An Environmental Defence Society spokesman confirmed the only dross to be moved as part of the decision was from Mataura.
Sir Tim said on Tuesday he believed NZAS would take the potential hazard into consideration and the company would take all the precautions to stock the substance in a safe place.
“I think they will do a very professional job.”
Community and environmental lobbyists, local runanga, politicians and corporate representatives collectively hailed an agreement which would see about 8000 tonnes of aluminium smelter dross removed.
Stop the Dross campaigner and Mataura resident Laurel Turnbull was overcome with emotion as she reacted to the news on Tuesday.
“We’re over the moon.
“It’s just unbelievable, really. After all this time, we heard so often ‘It’s going to go’ and ‘We’ll have a deal’… but they fell down.
“It’s just a relief for people in the community… to know we don’t need to worry about it if we have another flood.”
The former mill adjoined the Mataura River, and had been threatened by floodwater three times since storage began, most recently last year.
If smelter dross got wet, it could react with water to produce clouds of toxic ammonia gas.
Mrs Turnbull said a solution had been a long time coming, as she had first raised the issue in 2014.
“I will be able to enjoy my retirement now and not worry about it.”
She did not know how the Invercargill community would feel about the move, but said the current storage arrangements were “not fit for purpose”.
The dross, a byproduct from NZAS’ Tiwai Point facility, was dumped at the mill without resource consent in 2015 by Taha Asia Pacific.
Taha went into liquidation the following year, leaving the waste in limbo until March 2018, when local and central government agreed to a $4 million deal with NZAS to dispose of it over six years.
Environment Minister David Parker said the latest agreement was a new one, and unconnected to any agreement on the smelter’s future or environmental remediation.
He hoped it would give Mataura residents greater peace of mind.
“The resolution will protect the wellbeing of Southland’s people and its waterways.”
The Ministry for the Environment would share equally with NZAS owned by mining giant Rio Tinto additional $1 million cost of accelerating the removal.
“It’s disappointing more public money needs to be spent on remediation, but it reflects the history of the dross and the need to move it quickly for the benefit of our environment and Mataura residents.”
Environmental Defence Society chief executive Gary Taylor said he was pleased with the outcome of the society’s legal proceedings, and praised all parties for a helpful attitude of trust and goodwill.
“We brought proceedings… because we considered NZAS was responsible for the continued safe handling of the premix…
“This was a complex negotiation that was time-consuming and challenging. While it’s our position that a small environmental group like EDS should not have been required to take on the biggest mining company in the world to see it face up to its environmental responsibilities, we are pleased with the outcome.”
Environment Southland chairman Nicol Horrell welcomed the agreement on Tuesday.
“Environment Southland has been a party to this long-running issue, first identifying it illegally dumped in 2014, subsequently prosecuting and discovering the storage at the Mataura paper mill through an enforcement order.”
ES compliance manager Simon Mapp yesterday confirmed the premix storage in Invercargill did not come under the organisation’s jurisdiction.
“Environment Southland’s role as a regional council is to manage the discharge of contaminants to air, land and water. We don’t control the transportation or storage of hazardous substances. Any resource consent to do with storage of the material would be granted by the relevant territorial authorities.”