Farmers withdraw appeal to save ratepayers’ cash

 December 5, 2017

Farmers have pulled the plug on an expensive Environment Court hearing but are deeply disillusioned Invercargill City Council turned its back on an option to amicably settle points of difference.

They are disappointed the rural sector is under relentless pressure to deal with contaminants but the city council is being allowed to discharge stormwater containing untreated human waste into some of the same waterways farmers are working hard to improve.

In October four Southland farmers jointly appealed Environment Southland’s decision to grant Invercargill City Council (ICC) consent to discharge urban stormwater into five local waterways.

The discharges include stormwater from roads, hard stand areas, roofs and permeable surfaces, as well as drainage water.  The ICC has acknowledged this stormwater includes raw sewage, due to the deterioration of infrastructure and incorrect pipe connections.

The discharge of sewage to water is prohibited under the proposed Southland Water and Land Plan, and the zinc and copper levels in the discharge are above the ANZECC, Australia New Zealand Environment Conservation Council trigger values.

Environment Southland planning staff recommended consent be declined but the hearing panel of three appointed commissioners granted consent for a term of 15 years.  

Federated Farmers joined the appeal in support of the four farmer members, and to reflect the national organisation’s concerns over a seeming double-standard on addressing urban contamination losses versus rural losses into streams and rivers.

In an unusual move, the City chose not to enter into mediation and referred the appeal directly to the Environment Court.

The appellants felt mediation was the best way to make progress on the areas of disagreement. One, Winton farmer Rosemary Hamilton, said: “We find removal of the opportunity to mediate to be of extreme concern and disappointment.

“However, in the interests of Southland’s ratepayers, our preference is for Invercargill City Council to invest its time and resources into upgrading infrastructure and treatment processes rather than spending money on lawyers at the Environment Court.”

Southland Federated Farmers President Allan Baird said mediation was an opportunity for some genuine discussions between the city council, regional council and concerned landowners. 

“Both the rural sector and ratepayers remain impacted by this decision. Mediation was an opportunity to find true community solutions to some of the issues identified with both the consent term and conditions.”

Mr Baird said without the option of mediation, the farmers had two choices: withdraw from the process or push Invercargill City Council and Southland Regional Council, and the ratepayers, into what could well have been be an expensive and drawn-out evidentiary and hearing process.  They felt it was best to withdraw the appeal.

Nevertheless, many farmers and others in rural communities remain concerned about the inequitable way Environment Southland requires rural dischargers to continually ‘up their game’ on farm infrastructure, irrespective of cost, yet urban stormwater and sewerage systems are allowed to deteriorate to an extent that untreated human waste is discharged into our rivers with no consequences.

“This is not an ‘effects based’ approach, nor appropriate,” Mr Baird said.

“The pressure applied to the farming sector to improve the quality of their systems is relentless. Our members invest significant amounts of capital and time into managing on-farm discharges.  It was therefore disappointing to learn of the discharges of human wastewater to the very water bodies that the farming community are working hard to improve.”