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Otago regional councillor Michael Laws has called for an immediate review of the regional council’s operations during Covid Alert Level 4, after receiving a complaint a staff member did not physically inspect stormwater pollution in Wanaka’s Northlake subdivision during lockdown.

The council’s general regulatory manager Richard Saunders confirmed the complaint was being dealt with and appropriate enforcement actions were being taken to ensure compliance with the Regional Water Plan, despite lockdown restrictions.

Actions are also being taken regarding sediment discharge into Bullock Creek.

There would be site visits during lockdown if there were critical risks to human health or the environment.

“These arrangements do not provide an opportunity for people to pollute the Otago environment without the risk of detection and enforcement action,” Mr Saunders said.

Cr Law’s request for a review was made to the chief executive and councillors, after Wanaka resident Don McKinlay contacted him last Friday, annoyed that his pollution complaint last Wednesday had not been followed up with a site visit, less than 12 hours after the country went into lockdown.

Otago Regional Councillor Michael Laws. PHOTO PETER MCINTOSH

There had been heavy rain on August 16 and the following day, Mr McKinlay found a stormwater system had discharged silt down Rockabilly Gully, in the Hikuwai Reserve, and into the Clutha River.

August 18, he was told a local staff member was not permitted to travel from his home to investigate.

Mr McKinlay told The News he felt the inspection should have been permitted, because people had 48 hours’ grace to travel home and could still go to the petrol station and supermarket.

Cr Laws confirmed he had taken up the issue with the regulatory manager.

“I was informed that the complaint wasn’t immediately investigated because of the Covid Level 4 situation.

“I responded that it would seem absurd that when an environmental incident is under way, ORC staff stay tucked away in their bubbles .. were that logic followed, any polluter could do anything in Level 4 and know that detection and prosecution is unlikely.

“Doesn’t seem best practise to me,” Cr Laws said.

Mr Saunders, responding to questions from The News, said the complaint had been taken seriously and work continued during lockdown.

“The only part of our process impacted by lockdown is the attendance of on-site meetings. ORC will continue to attend critical incidents .. but we are very conscious of the risk to staff and the community.”

A significant amount of work could be done by phone and email and the council was comfortable an appropriate balance was being struck between staff health and safety and addressing environmental issues, he said.