Items of interest from today's meetings of the Council's two key Committees, Consents & Regulatory, and Policy & Planning:
The Consents & Regulatory Committee and Policy & Planning Committee generally meet every six weeks, on the same day. Each of the Committees is made up of Councillors and external members.
Region keeps good eye on dairying – report
An independent report by an environmental advocacy group has ranked the Council highly for the way it monitors dairy farms and enforces the required standards. Taranaki was one of just four regions to receive an A grade in the Forest and Bird assessment, the Consents and Regulatory Committee was told. The other three were Tasman, Hawke’s Bay and Wellington, whose dairy sectors are much smaller. The Taranaki Regional Council won top marks for monitoring every farm in the region, carrying out ‘cold call’ inspections and taking enforcement action in every case of serious non-compliance. Forest and Bird criticised the Council for what the report called inconsistencies in its response to environmental breaches. But the Committee was told the Council has a consistent policy which allows a range of responses depending on individual circumstances, which can and do vary. The Forest and Bird report says 75% of New Zealand dairy farms are in the eight regions that, unlike Taranaki, do not monitor 100% of farms.
Biodiversity project wins hearts and minds
Towards Predator-Free Taranaki, the Council’s multi-year project to boost populations of native plants, birds and reptiles by removing introduced threats, has met a hugely positive public response, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. About 1000 new traps have been deployed across New Plymouth, having been distributed by schools and at well-attended public workshops organised by the Council. Three-hundred people attended an open day in Oakura promoting the Kaitake phase of the project, dubbed Restore Kaitake. And landowners are being signed up for the first phase of rural landscape predator control. Toward Predator-Free is supported by more than $11 million from the Crown company Predator-Free 2050 Ltd.
Weather dampens monitoring results
A wetter year than normal was reflected in the results of physical and chemical monitoring of waterway quality during the 2016-2017 year, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. But while increased nutrient levels, bacterial levels and turbidity were noted at a number of sites, overall trends remain positive as time passes. Year-by-year fluctuations are natural and to be expected, the Committee was told. By almost all measures at most sites most of the time, the region’s water quality is ‘fit for purpose’, and especially when compulsory national criteria are considered. The exception was ‘swimmability’ criteria, where most sites fell below the strict 95% compliance rate required. However, most of these sites are too shallow, cold and/or small for recreational use. The Committee was also told that 10 additional sites in five additional catchments were monitored during the year, in addition to the 13 sites in six catchments where monitoring has taken place since the 1990s. Results from the sampling were in line with the broader findings, suggesting that the long-term monitoring programme offers a good representation of the full range of water quality in the region.
Monitoring duties keep team on the go
Monitoring the environmental performance of consent holders is a complex undertaking that involves hundreds of tasks carried out by officers with highly specialised skills, the Consents & Regulatory Committee was told. One hundred-plus consent monitoring reports are presented annually to the Committee but feeding into them are hundreds of inspections, environmental surveys, sampling runs, analyses, tests, assessments, calibration and maintenance sessions, and all the associated administrative back-up. A total of 1500 separate consent compliance monitoring activities for the 2017-2018 year are identified in the Council’s database, many of them requiring more than one officer and/or of extended duration and/or requiring highly specialised equipment. The Council makes a major investment in this work because it is important, the Committee was told. The same pool of staff is also heavily involved in other duties including state of the environment monitoring and enforcement procedures.
Fresh look at oil-spill gear
Regional stockpiles of oil-spill clean-up equipment will be reviewed under Maritime NZ’s new Oil Spill Readiness and Response Strategy, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. The Council has long argued that more such equipment is required at Port Taranaki and awaits the review with interest, the Committee was told. The new Strategy also acknowledges Maritime NZ’s role in ensuring regions can deploy appropriate numbers of trained oil-spill response personnel. “The Council has a team of trained responders that are involved in regular training exercises with Maritime NZ,” the Committee was told. “These have been very well run and have been highly beneficial preparation for a marine oil-spill response.” Oil spills are categorised according to whether they are small enough to be handled by the operator responsible for them (Tier 1) or whether the responses need regional coordination (Tier 2) or national coordination (Tier 3). The Council manages Tier 2 responses in Taranaki, while Maritime NZ manages Tier 3 responses here and nationally.
Speaking up for region
Freshwater quality and transport featured prominently in the Council’s submissions and other advocacy on behalf of the region during the 2017-2018 year, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. The Council made representations to the Ministry for the Environment over proposed ‘swimmability’ targets, and was also part of a freshwater quality management audit by the Office of the Auditor-General, which is preparing a high-level report that is yet to be released. Transport advocacy included submissions on the Mt Messenger and Awakino tunnel bypass projects, submissions to Waikato Regional Council on SH3 and stock-truck effluent, and submissions to the NZ Transport Agency, also on stock-truck effluent. In total, the Council made 24 formal submissions during the year, of which 12 either resulted in changes or are still under consideration.