Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) gives company green light to dump marine waste near Great Barrier Island

Auckland's Westhaven Marina. Photo:Stephen Forbes.

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has given a company the all clear to dump 250,000 m3 of marine sludge a year dredged from Auckland Harbour east of Great Barrier Island. 

And the Department of Conservation (DOC) which strongly opposed the proposal during the submissions process says it hasn’t yet decided on whether or not to pursue legal action against the decision.

Coastal Resources Limited (CRL) is the company that applied for the resource consent last year to dispose of the material. The company says the dredging work is to improve some of the city’s marinas and accommodate the next Americas Cup, as well as potentially for the Ports of Auckland (POAL) to allow bigger vessels to access the harbour.

The Environmental Protection Authority’s decision making committee held a hearing on the application on January 17 and released its final decision approving the consent last week.

CRL now plans dump up to 250,000 m3 of dredgings a year for the next 35 years in a spot 25 kilometres east of Great Barrier Island.

The company commissioned an economic assessment report for the application by Property Economics. Titled Economic Assessment of Deep Sea Dredging Disposal in Auckland which said the parties that will benefit from the consent include the Ports of Auckland, the Americas Cup Village and the Westhaven, Hobsonville Point, Gulf Harbour, Half Moon Bay and Pine Harbour Marinas.

The report also outlines the America’s Cup Village has currently lodged a consent to dredge up to 70,000m3 of material as part of the Americas Cup Village development. While the other marinas around the city mentioned in the report already have existing permits for ongoing dredging work.

DOC spokesman Steve Brightwell has 20 working days to appeal the decision but it’s too early to talk about what the department’s next step will be.

“At this stage, our staff have not fully analysed the decision and we have no further comment to make.”

Brightwell referred us the DOC submission to the EPA Decision-Making Committee last year.

The DOC submission outlines its concerns about the adverse effects the dumping of dredged material could have on the area’s biological diversity and integrity of marine species, ecosystems, and processes in the area where it will be dumped.

It says its concerns relate to the potential for the activity to have adverse effects on marine mammals, seabirds, and benthic habitat.

“The Auckland marine environment has been degraded and negatively impacted by the establishment of invasive, non-indigenous species (NIS). The introduction and spread of nonindigenous species can have significant adverse effects on marine habitats and communities. The source sites of the dredged material contain NIS. Some of these species, including the Mediterranean fanworm (Sabella spallanzanii) and clubbed tunicate (Styela clava) are registered as Unwanted Organisms by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

“The transport of sediment and NIS from the source sites to the Northern Disposal Area (NDA) has the potential to increase the risk of translocation of any non-indigenous species present in the dredged material. While the application acknowledges that survival of NIS after translocation is unlikely, this risk cannot be completely discounted. There is a risk that some NIS will survive the transport and disposal and become established in the NDA and surrounding marine environment.”

Auckland Council’s Hauraki Gulf Forum Chairperson John Meeuwsen outlined the organisation’s opposition to the proposal in a submission in November. He said the forum would prefer to see the dredged material transferred and dumped in a landfill site, a proposal CRL was opposed to due to cost.

But Meeuwsen now says the body can't take legal action against the decision anyway.

"The Hauraki Gulf Forum isn't allowed to do anything like that. We are strictly limited to advocating but we can't challenge anything legally,” Meeuwsen says. “The only issue about that decision is whether the conditions are adequate and the risks have been covered off. I'm waiting to hear whether the conditions are adequate. There are still a number of people who object to it.

"But I haven't heard anything from the Hauraki Gulf Forum members so I'm assuming silence means acceptance."

The final decision released by the EPA on Thursday last week says it considered the potential adverse effects on the environment of the dumping activity in the Northern Disposal Area (NDA), as well as any impact on existing interests such as the fishing industry but it decided they would be negligible.

But the decision does include a number of caveats.

It says under the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 the EPA can reconsider the application at a later date if there are adverse effects on the environment. In addition CRL has offered to help establish two separate liaison groups to ensure that both the seafood industry and iwi / hapu groups are kept up to date on the dumping activities and monitoring programmes.

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6 Comments

Dump it in three kings quarry. Local residents have been complaining for decades that they want the quary filled in before it is developed.

This is insane. Just look at who the Directors of the EPA and the The Environmental Protection Authority’s decision making committee are and their backgrounds. CRL - Drinkrow Family is one of the wealthiest in NZ plus all those with Maori connections involved in this decision (including Board) make a complete mockery of their concerns for the Environment. 250,000 cubic meters per annum for 35 years! Eugenie Sage needs to go or does she too not give a damn about the Environment.

Sage is Conservation, David Parker is Minister for the Environment (with Mahuta and Sage as Associate Ministers). The application was heard under the EEZ Act.

The good thing about this application process is that DOC (Sage's responsibility) actually opposed the application (i.e., it fulfilled its function in relation to environmental advocacy) whereas often under National government's their Minister would block them from exercising that function.

I haven't read the EPA decision, but what I would be interested in would be consideration of alternatives, in particular disposal to land - as above the article suggests that alternative was discounted on the basis of cost. But I would not think that cost alone is a determining factor. No doubt DOC are considering all that in relation to a potential appeal. Thing is there is already an existing consent for marine dumping at this site - the application simply seeks to expand the volume allowed to be dumped.

Thanks Kate. The first set of regulations under the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 (the Act) came into force on 28 June 2013. Explains all.

Why does toxic sludge make me think of politics?

To be fair, Sage inherited the Department of Tourism Lite. It'll take time to weed out the rot.