The Otago Regional Council will ask the Environment Protection Agency for further consultation on its contentious water quality plan even though it may no longer have a say in the matter.
In a 7-5 vote, councillors decided to ask for a facilitator to be engaged by the EPA to ‘‘facilitate and mediate’’ consultation with stakeholders on the plan change that addresses activities affecting water quality and gaps in the rules for managing discharges —despite being told by council chief executive Sarah Gardner the council had already lost control of the process.
A day earlier, Environment Minister David Parker decided to send the pending changes straight to the Environment Court, with the EPA taking control of the process, after being asked to do so by the council at the end of February.
At the council’s meeting last week, Cr Michael Laws said the council was setting itself up for embarrassment when taking an unchanged plan change forward to be challenged at the Environment Court.
‘‘What we do know is that in this section 32 report there is continual reference to the basis of what we don’t know,’’ he said.
‘‘And that is what concerns me most of all. We hold apparently, according to this report, and I quote, ‘little information about the effect of rural land uses on water quality in Otago, so there is uncertainty about the particular land uses that are particularly contributing to degraded water quality’. In other words,our science is not up to it.’’
He drafted a letter on March 26 to council chairwoman Marian Hobbs asking for a reset of council priorities in light of the Covid-19 crisis facing New Zealand.
The letter was signed by Crs Hilary Calvert, Carmen Hope, Gary Kelliher, Kevin Malcolm, Andrew Noone and Kate Wilson.
All seven voted to ask for what Mrs Gardner said was an un heard of intervention in the process.
Mrs Gardner, who was once general manager of the process for the EPA, said the council resolution was not likely to achieve anything.
‘‘I think it is not something that would normally happen — and I’ve listened to all your reasoning — but the reality is that ORC does not have control of this process any more.
‘‘And so your resolution is not one that has any standing inside of the process.
‘‘All I’m really saying is I can’t give you any surety that the resolution would be taken up because it’s not within my sphere of influence
— or yours.’’
Ms Hobbs, and Crs Michael Deaker, Alexa Forbes, Gretchen Robertson and Bryan Scott opposed the decision.