Items of interest from this week’s meetings of the Council’s two key committees, Consents & Regulatory, and Policy & Planning:
Realities of life with a volcano
Significant and prolonged volcanic activity in Taranaki would have serious implications well beyond the region, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. The Council is a stakeholder in a new $13 million, five-year, multi-agency study seeking the best ways to monitor, forecast, prepare for and respond to such an occurrence, which is given a 50% chance of occurring within five decades. The Committee was told that the record of previous volcanic activity suggests Taranaki should expect ongoing periods of seismic activity, eruptions, ashfalls, lahars, cone collapses and the like, continuing for decades or longer. This would potentially impact most of the North Island, disrupting gas and electricity supplies, farming and primary exports, municipal water supplies, tourism, and transport networks. A presentation on the large-scale, Government-funded study was made to the Committee.
Pesticide surveys reassuring
Almost no traces of pesticides were found in two recent freshwater surveys in Taranaki, one by the Council focusing on surface water and the second a regular national survey of groundwater. Both surveys – one of rivers and streams, the other of groundwater, turned up minute traces of pesticides residues in only three samples across both surveys, all well within relevant standards. And there were no traces of glyphosate, which is best-known as Roundup and is very widely used.
Coastal Plan in hands of court
The future of the Council’s Proposed Coastal Plan for Taranaki is now in the hands of the Environment Court following appeals lodged by 10 parties, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. The Court will encourage settlement by negotiation, mediation or other non-court processes, but not all matters are likely to be resolved and a formal court hearing is likely. Issues raised in the appeals relate mainly to regulation of hydrocarbon exploration and production, protection of indigenous biodiversity and recognition of tangata whenua values. They were lodged mainly by non-governmental organisations, as well as an iwi and two government departments. Another 19 organisations have sought ‘related party’ status allowing them to participate in pre-hearing processes and the hearing itself. These related parties include fishing-industry bodies and the Ministry of Fisheries, which had not previously submitted on the Proposed Plan. There were 61 submitters when the Plan went out for formal public consultation.
Hooks not needed for biodiversity work
The Council strongly supports the Government’s objective to maintain and enhance indigenous biodiversity across New Zealand, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. However, some of the proposed measures in the draft Government directives would result in unwarranted cost-shifting to councils and/or cannot be practically implemented. Most of these issues relate to requirements on councils to survey and map significant natural areas, taonga species an ecosystems, highly mobile fauna areas. The Council believes that much more effort is required by Government to get the overall system right, including a package of assistance, grants and incentives supporting and incentives supporting pest and weed control and voluntary approaches such as the Council’s Key Native Ecosystem (KNE) programme. The Council has made a submission on the Draft National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity, which is expected to be finalised and gazetted by mid-year.
Navigation and safety bylaws up for review
The Council’s navigation and safety bylaws for Port Taranaki and its approaches will be reviewed this year following approval from the Policy & Planning Committee. The bylaws, which were last reviewed in 2009, set out speed and access restrictions and other requirements for all water users in and around the port. The Committee was told that a preliminary assessment has concluded that the current bylaws are working well and no major changes are likely to be required. The most noteworthy potential amendment is extending their coverage to the outer reaches of the harbour limits, which are increasingly used as an anchorage area by larger commercial vessels awaiting access to the port. While the Council also has the option of extending its jurisdiction to all of the region’s coastal waters, the port and its environs are where the risks are greatest and demand is strongest. Other waters are left under the jurisdiction of Maritime New Zealand. The review team will talk informally with key stakeholders before formal public consultation later in the year.
Health of estuaries assessed
A tailored and risk-based environmental monitoring regime for the region’s estuaries can now be developed following a detailed analysis of their vulnerability to excessive muddiness (sedimentation) and excessive nutrient levels (eutrophication). The consultant’s analysis, commissioned recently by the Council, covered 20 estuaries, including a number of smaller ones as well as the larger ones in the north and south of the region. The risk of sedimentation was assessed at moderate to high at seven of them, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. Symptoms of eutrophication were found at two, although a total of five were rated as being at high to very high risk of it. Future Council monitoring will range from annually to 10-yearly at different sites, depending on their vulnerability. The consultant also provided habitat maps for each estuary analysed, which can be used as a baseline to measure broad-scale changes in the future. Details of all the estuaries and their vulnerability can be found in the full report online: