Mill cause for concern

Whitikahu resident Jesse Boyd is worried about the impacts if the Orini Sawmill gets permission to discharge contaminants into the environment.  She talks with N8N’s Annette Taylor.

“I live across the street from the mill, a few blocks down.  A little while ago a man came to the house with some forms for resource consent.  I was pretty sure if they were treating timber there I would not want to give resource consent for that.”

The mother of three – baby Fern is just three months old – is concerned about the chemicals used in treating the wood.

Chromated copper arsenate (CCA) is used to protect the wood against fungal decay and insects.

The mill is operated by NZ Timber Ltd.  At present it is operating under a short term resource consent from Waikato Regional Council, authorising the discharge of stormwater from the site into the Tauhei Stream and discharge of contaminants to the land.

The Tauhei Stream flows into the Mangawara Stream, and then into the Waikato River, says Jesse.

“I’m concerned about the ground water.  The water table is very high out at Orini, and is an acid peat soil.  They say the ground water flows towards the stream, but maybe it is more dispersed.  I’m trying to establish a little orchard for my family, how safe will the fruit be to eat?”

She is also unsure about water.  “We have a roof catchment for rain water, and there may be contaminated dust floating about. I’m concerned on behalf of other people in the area who use a bore water catchment – maybe they are more at risk from these chemicals.”

She hesitated to talk with her neighbours having only lived in the area for three years.  “I didn’t want to be pushy, I knew the mill had been there a long time, people might have connections. But my concerns are genuine, and I don’t know the answers.”

A few days before the consent application closed she heard sounds of increased activity at the mill.

“I thought, I have to do something.  People must care about this. I got in touch with the people who run Pukemokemoke Reserve, and talked with Professor Warwick Silvester, who is a retired ecologist from Waikato University. After reading the proposal, he agreed there were questions about the ground water and put in a negative submission.”

Prof Silvester told N8N he had concerns about the application and that the present site is badly contaminated by CCA. “There is a plume of CCA chemicals in the groundwater heading for the Tauhei Stream.”

Jesse spoke with farmers living further down the stream who were not aware of the mill’s application.

“They were surprised; they had not been contacted.  There is probably a certain area in which the mill owners have to inform people, but they didn’t think or chose not to get in touch with people further down the stream.  Even though those people may be interested parties.”

Some of these ended up also making negative submissions.

“There is also the question of the wider environmental impacts, such as fish.  I understand from reading the application that while the levels of fish around the mill are very low – there are things like koi carp that tolerate polluted areas – that some native species are also present further away from the site.  Surely it would be best not to make the situation worse for them.”

She has no problem with the mill continuing to operate, but is not happy with it treating timber with chemicals which are then “poured” on-site.

“In their application they say they can’t afford to remove some of the waste off the site.  If they can’t afford to do that, I don’t think they should be allowed to continue.”

There is discussion in the application of mitigation work, she says.  “They talk about how they are going to do things differently, and much better than before, and apparently they will be doing things better. But it doesn’t carry much weight with me because before was shocking.”

While studying the paperwork she was struck to read that Waikato District Council’s Regional Policy Statement is to improve the standard of the river, or water, in the area.

“And in their application, the mill does not say they will be improving it, but that it will have a minor effect on it.  But a minor effect is not even a minimal improvement, so in that respect, the council will be going against its own policy statement if it allows them to have a minor effect on the environment.”

Jesse is now waiting to find out if there will be a hearing, and she is prepared to be heard if there is one.

She would love to see the site cleared up: “That would be a great thing for the area and a great thing for the Waikato.”

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