The Government used special recovery powers and paid $2.5 million to create a permanent earthquake dump after the private operator complained that the venture was proving unprofitable.
Environment Ministry documents released under the Official Information Act show the private operator of the Burwood Resource Recovery Park, Transpacific Industries (NZ), pushed the Government for favourable changes to make the waste-recycling centre more "financially viable".
In a meeting in August, Transpacific managers told officials from the ministry, several Canterbury councils and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority that demolition contractors sorting quake waste off-site was threatening the park's profitability.
Company executives asked officials for help, including: Allowing the Burwood site to be used for permanent waste disposal, which required the Government to use its special quake recovery powers.
A one-off government subsidy through the waste-minimisation fund.
The councils to enter into a joint venture with Transpacific to spread the risk.
The ability to charge demolition contractors higher disposal fees.
Guaranteed minimum waste volume for the centre.
In November last year, the Government announced Burwood would become a permanent disposal site for "inert" quake waste and the operator would receive a $2.5m grant to help build a new recycling plant.
At the time, the Government argued the changes made environmental sense, diverting truckloads of harmless waste away from Kate Valley landfill, which would be put to better use handling hazardous material.
Transwaste Canterbury – a joint venture between Transpacific and five Canterbury councils – took over management of the recycling centre in November, spreading the risk and potential profit to a company part-owned by ratepayers, as requested.
The change in management occurred despite ministry records showing the city council was "hesitant" to be directly involved in the park.
Transpacific managing director Tom Nickels said yesterday the company had asked authorities for the changes after the assumptions that had made the business worthwhile shifted in the unpredictable wake of the February 22, 2011, quake.
Transpacific was invited to run the park by Civil Defence just weeks after the quake but its two joint partners, including council-owned EcoCentral, soon backed out of the deal for undisclosed commercial reasons.
The volume of unsorted waste, which was meant to contain valuable material, was also far lower than expected, with much of it going to Lyttelton Port of Christchurch, he said.
"We were looking to get that sorted out because if we couldn't then the project wasn't viable."
Nickels said Transpacific did not get everything it wanted, with authorities refusing to guarantee a minimum waste volume.
Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said there was nothing inappropriate in adopting Transpacific recommendations and there was no question the quake waste needed to be managed.
Quake waste is still be stockpiled at the Burwood Park, with resource consent applications for permanent disposal yet to be lodged.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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