Salmon ruling may be delayed

CATHIE BELL
Last updated 11:30 12/10/2012

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The Environmental Protection Authority's board of inquiry yesterday asked Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson for three months longer to make their decision on whether New Zealand King Salmon can set up eight new farms in the Marlborough Sounds.

Under the Resource Management Act (RMA), the five-member board is supposed to report to the minister with its draft decision by November 19 and its final decision is due by December 31.

But yesterday board chairman Judge Gordon Whiting issued a minute to parties involved in the hearing saying the board was concerned that the statutory time constraints it was under would compromise a robust decision.

The board's lawyers wrote to Ms Wilkinson asking for more time, and requesting she extend its deadline till February 22 next year. Ms Wilkinson has the power to grant an extension if she considers special circumstances apply and only for up to 18 months, unless the applicant agrees to longer.

Judge Whiting said the board was committed to providing a robust and accurate decision and considered that, due to the special circumstances, more time was needed to achieve that outcome.

The special circumstances include:

1293 submissions, significantly more than any other Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) process.

More than 7500 pages of evidence, excluding the application which is more than four lever arch folders, and more than 3400 pages of evidence transcripts.

More than 150 witnesses, with further submissions and seven more expert planning witnesses to be heard.

Compressed working time.

An estimated five-week hearing extended to eight weeks, significantly longer than any other EPA hearing.

The first hearing of a concurrent plan change and resource consent applications.

The board plans to produce a draft by December 19.

The current timetable requires the board to release its draft decision by November 16, which gives it only 16 working days to deliberate, consider and write the report. The EPA needs three working days to then print and distribute the draft.

The board has used its best endeavours to ensure that the hearing has occurred efficiently, it says, including extending hearing hours, working during the evenings and weekends, and doing site visits during the weekend.

The letter says the board was aware of the costs associated with any extension in time.

Other members of the board are Environment Court commissioner Helen Beaumont, former Northland Regional Council chairman Mark Farnsworth, former Marlborough district councillor Michael Briggs, and Te Runanga o Otakou chairman Edward Ellison. All have considerable Resource Management Act experience.

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