Outrage over 'unjustifiable' $12k energy bill

NEIL REID
Last updated 05:00 16/12/2012

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Anti-fracking campaigners have been sent bills for more than $12,000 by a local council following their requests for information on oil and gas operations neighbouring their property.

And another council has blocked email correspondence from the group, an action which it has now said was undertaken "inadvertently".

For the past 18 months residents of Ngaere - a farming community 5km south of Stratford - have been seeking answers about the rapidly expanding energy industry on their doorstep.

Responses to numerous Official Information Act requests from local resident Sarah Roberts to local government officials have revealed previously non-reported noxious fluid leaks, ground contamination and other breaches of consent orders.

On Monday, Taranaki Regional Council director of resource management Fred McLay wrote in an email to Roberts that it would cost her $4399 - $2537 for photocopying and $1862 for labour - plus GST, to respond fully to an OIA request for unpublished well site monitoring reports.

Last month, McLay stated that to respond to another OIA request from Roberts would have an "estimated cost" of $7080, plus GST.

He wrote that it would take a staff member two weeks to go through all necessary files and archives, and undertake the photocopying.

Roberts said she was appalled by the council's approach.

"I can't see how the council can justify these charges. Why can't they just publish the whole lot on their website?" she said. "I believe they are trying to make it really difficult for us to see what has been happening next to our houses and next to our land."

McLay said Roberts' request was "not a small" job.

"There are over 230 reports she has requested copies of. Most of these are in archives and the cost relates to accessing, checking, and photocopying the reports. It is not unusual for a council to require costs to be met for such large requests. The Council has been very helpful to Ms Roberts, having previously spent more than $25,000 responding to her numerous requests. It is not appropriate that ratepayers continue to subsidise further requests."

Meanwhile, Roberts and her partner, David Morrison, complained to the Stratford District Council after its officials introduced a block on their emails.

An SDC spokesman said the email bounce-backs occurred after an internal communications mix-up.

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