Board aims for shorter schedule

PENNY WARDLE
Last updated 12:44 08/08/2012

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The hearing to decide whether New Zealand King Salmon should be allowed to develop nine new fish farms in the Marlborough Sounds could take 10 weeks.

Environmental Protection Authority board of inquiry chairman Judge Gordon Whiting and commissioners Helen Beaumont, Edward Ellison, Mark Farnsworth and Michael Briggs were in Blenheim yesterday to discuss hearing issues with NZ King Salmon, submitters and their lawyers.

In March, the board pencilled in hearing dates from August 13 to September 14. Last month it postponed the opening to August 27 and said it could take five to seven weeks. But yesterday Judge Whiting released a tentative 10-week timetable.

The lengthy schedule was intended to frighten parties involved in the application into co-operating to cut the time, he said.

King Salmon lawyer James Gardner-Hopkins said at the meeting the company would be overwhelmed at the prospect of such a long hearing and it must be possible to trim the time.

No-one objected to a suggestion that people give their opening statements at the beginning of their submission rather than at the opening of the hearing, to save doubling up.

The tentative timetable includes a day at Waikawa Marae, in Picton, and one at Portage Resort Hotel, in Kenepuru Sound, where people could speak and be questioned but not give evidence or be cross-examined.

The board would pre-arrange a weekend visit to the Sounds to look at the site of the proposed farms.

"We do not want a shotgun pointed at us as we step onshore of private property," Judge Whiting said.

The Marlborough District Council has suggested that board members fly over the Sounds to see the split between prohibited and non-prohibited areas for marine farming.

King Salmon objected to the cost of chartering a plane but council lawyer Stephen Quinn said an hour in the air would cost less than a day-long boat trip.

Judge Whiting said board members had found it useful to fly over sites, but would not insist. Parties with an opinion on this should sort it out, he said.

Pelorus Boating Club lawyer Sue Grey asked whether King Salmon was applying for exclusive occupation of the surface area of their farms, the area inside anchoring points or a wider zone. Information in evidence from the company was contradictory, which made it difficult for her client to prepare evidence, she said.

Mr Gardner-Hopkins said the angle of anchoring cables meant it would be unwise to anchor within three or four metres of a farm. King Salmon did not agree with its own fishing experts, who suggested access should be prohibited in a wider zone, he said.

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Judge Whiting said the hearing timetable would be a moveable feast.

It could open with an overview of its application from King Salmon then progress to evidence on effects on the water column, from the sea surface to the sea bed. Some experts in this vital area were from overseas and could attend only during in the first week, he said.

Submitters have until Friday to file evidence.

The deadline for King Salmon rebuttal evidence is August 17 and its final planning report is due by August 27, when the hearing will open at the Floor Pride Marlborough Civic Theatre, in Blenheim.

- The Marlborough Express

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