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Published: 2008-01-25 00:00:00

Meat company Affco has been granted changes to its resource consent covering waste water odour discharges from its Horotiu plant to accommodate a planned dairy processing operation.

However, an Environment Waikato hearings committee has significantly beefed up the consent conditions in a newly released report.

The report also urged Affco to develop a comprehensive plan, with budgets and timeframes, to avoid nuisance odour discharges from the waste water treatment operation.

A committee hearing on the waste water odour consent was held before Christmas. The hearing, the result of Affco’s consent change application, came against a background of complaints from the public about existing odours from various activities at the meat processing plant.

Dairy Trust Ltd, which is 80 per cent owned by Affco, is planning to establish a milk powder plant at Horotiu.

An application has not as yet been made for resource consent for direct discharges to air from the milk powder plant itself.

Evidence given to the committee by the company said waste water from dairy processing would be treated through the existing waste water system, which was to be upgraded by a special cover over a treatment pond to help prevent the escape of odours, and the creation and covering of a new pond. Gas from both of these ponds would be burnt off and Affco believed this improved system would help better contain all types of waste water odours. The company wanted to be able to delay covering one of the ponds for 18 months or till the commencement of dairying operations, whichever was the sooner.

However, a number of submitters spoke of their frustration at odours from the existing plant, and what was described as the “lack of consultation and communication” the community experienced from Affco. One called for changes to be made quickly and for the new cover to be placed on the existing pond immediately.

Senior Turangawaewae Marae kaumatua and trustee Motu Katipa complained of the negative impact plant discharges to air and water had on iwi use of the Waikato River and nearby land. Waikato Raupatu Trustee Company environment manager Timothy Manukau, who said waka paddlers in river had been left feeling sick by plant odours, opposed granting the consent. But he added that if it was granted tougher conditions should be imposed and processing dairy waste water should be delayed two years until the new system was shown to work properly.

However, expert evidence obtained by Environment Waikato suggested the risk of extra odour from including dairy waste water processing in the consent was low. Council resource officer Mark Row recommended the application be granted subject to a range of strengthened conditions.

The committee went even further than Mr Row’s recommendations, saying it needed to be satisfied that the risk of extra odour from the changes was low. It laid down a consent condition that there had to be a laboratory trial of the proposed new treatment pond, and insisted the existing pond be covered within six months irrespective of the outcome of the trial. “It is important the applicant prioritises this work and demonstrates a measure of good faith to the local community.”

On the issue of past and future effects of all odour discharges that did not comply with the resource consent, the committee said these should be dealt with by enforcement action by the council. “We accept that it may not be straightforward to enforce consent breaches regarding odour but council has demonstrated elsewhere that it can do so effectively.”

Affco was reminded that consent conditions were not optional and had to be complied with. “Some previous enforcement action has been taken by the council, and staff have indicated that the next step, with community backing, will be to pursue prosecution [for future breaches],” the committee warned.

It said the community should not be carrying the environmental cost of Affco’s Horotiu operations and that the company had to take the avoidance of offensive odour discharges more seriously. “A comprehensive plan with budgeting and timeframes is required to start this process. We insist that Affco gets this underway.”

In its findings, the committee said there had been a range of complaints about Affco’s level of dialogue with the community, and it changed the consent conditions to improve the company’s consultation with the public, notably with a requirement for consultation with the Waikato Raupatu Trustee Company and the Turangawaewae Board of Trustees.

Committee members included the chair, commissioner Rex Hawkins, and Environment Waikato councillors Norm Barker and Jane Hennebry.