King Salmon blasts farm opponents

LAURA BASHAM
Last updated 13:00 02/08/2012

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NZ King Salmon, whose costs to apply to expand its salmon farming operation in the Marlborough Sounds have blown out from $2.5 million to $8 million, has hit out at its opponents' "damaging" campaign.

"Our EPA application is costing us $8m now - all for 12 surface hectares. I fear for the future of primary production and prosperity in New Zealand," said the company's chief executive, Grant Rosewarne.

The company's application to the Environmental Protection Authority for nine new farms is to be heard by a board of inquiry in Blenheim, starting at the end of the month.

It originally estimated that its case would cost $2.5m, but later revised this to $6m and now $8m.

In a letter to the editor, Mr Rosewarne hit back at lobby group Sustain Our Sounds (SOS), which has appealed to the public for further donations.

SOS chairman Danny Boulton said last week it needed another $20,000 to cover the cost of expert witnesses. Its efforts had already cost "hundreds of thousands" of dollars in donations, work done without charge, and money from the Government's Environmental Legal Assistance Fund, which has a cap of $40,000 for legal costs.

Mr Rosewarne said Sustain Our Sounds appeared to be operating a damaging campaign that cost everyone dearly, particularly taxpayers, citing a complaint to the Commerce Commission which was thrown out.

He said the "false" accusations had been damaging and incurred unnecessary costs.

"SOS slings mud at NZ King Salmon, hoping it will stick, while forcing us to incur ever higher costs to provide even more expert advice. Bizarrely, it then cites NZ King Salmon's expenditure as a reason to solicit funds from the general public - on top of legal aid money acquired from the taxpayer," he said.

Mr Boulton said today SOS would assess NZ King Salmon's letter.

"We are a group running fulltime, free of charge, and we have to assess the application. We have some of the world's top experts, and we stand by our claims."

He said it was pleasing that SOS was continuing to receive financial support from the public.

Mr Rosewarne said the company was disappointed that the process was so expensive.

The EPA was set up by the Government as a means to fast-track applications for major infrastructure projects of national significance. The applicant is required to pay the board of inquiry's running costs.

Mr Rosewarne said that while it set deadlines, there were no checks and balances on the costs, an issue the company hoped the Government would find ways to allay for other applications.

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"Organisations like SOS keep raising more issues, and some of them are quite ridiculous, like the Commerce Commission one. There are a range of things we don't have any issues around, but we have to commission further evidence, which costs a small fortune, it takes up more time, and as a result the cost of the process goes up."

It had turned out to be the largest single investment the company had made, he said.

NZ King Salmon has said that if it gets approval for the new farms, it would be able to quadruple export revenue to around $230m a year. Mr Rosewarne acknowledged that the application cost would be small in comparison. "However, the process does not guarantee any sites."

He said it was a project of national significance because of the value, but was not nationally significant because of the small area involved. NZ King Salmon's operating model had been there for 25 years without environmental problems.

"Are all New Zealand primary production companies going to have to spend enormous amounts of money proving everything to the nth degree?"

Mr Rosewarne said the company had put together a solid, scientifically argued case. It was going into the hearing with a high level of confidence that the board would grant all the farm space it had applied for.

Mr Boulton said SOS would lodge its evidence on August 10, and he encouraged people to read it. "We have a very strong case. The public should be very concerned about this application."

The board is required to give its decision by the end of December.

- The Nelson Mail

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