Forest & Bird holding Environment Southland to ransom: ES chair
Environment Southland chairman Nicol Horrell has accused lobby group Forest & Bird of holding the regional council to ransom as an ongoing dispute over marine farming rules in the south continues.
However, Forest & Bird is holding its ground and court action may be looming.
Horrell expressed his frustrations with Forest & Bird when he and councillors were being updated on appeals to the Southland Regional Policy Statement at a meeting this week.
The regional policy statement provides the framework for how Environment Southland manages the natural and physical resources of Southland.
Environment Southland has resolved appeals through mediation with numerous other organisations in relation to the proposed policy statement.
However, Forest & Bird's appeals, which relate to marine farming, remain unresolved after 18 months which is delaying the plan from being totally operative.
The matter may require Environment Court action which would be costly for ratepayers, Environment Southland councillors were told.
Forest & Bird and Environment Southland both agree they do not want marine farming in marine reserves and in Fiordland's internal waters, part of Awarua Bay and Stewart Island locations Port William, Lords River, Port Pegasus and Paterson Inlet, except Big Glory Bay and the salmon farming refuse zone.
Fish & Game also does not want marine farming in marine mammal protection areas at Te Wae Wae and Curio Bay, but Environment Southland said they were already protected under other legislation.
Despite being largely in agreeance about where marine farming should not be, the two parties differ on how they think the issue should be managed.
Environment Southland have the rules written into its coastal plan, which it says is the appropriate place for detailed rules to be, whereas Forest & Bird wants the rules written into the Environment Southland Regional Policy Statement which gives a broad overview of issues for the region.
If Forest & Bird gets its way, marine farming could never be considered in the areas outlined.
However, if the rules remained in the coastal plan, the public would have the opportunity to make submissions on the issue when the coastal plan comes up for renewal.
"We consider the upcoming review of the coastal plan is the appropriate way to review the effectiveness of marine farming provisions," the council staff report to councillors says.
Horrell, speaking after the council meeting, said if Forest & Bird were successful it would basically shut the door on the opportunity for people to go through the "quite difficult hoops" required to show marine farming would be sustainable.
"It looks to me like an attempt to close the door on anyone wanting to have that conversation."
He was concerned the Wellington-based organisation was "not prepared to compromise" and said court action would cost a lot of money for Southland ratepayers.
An Environment Southland staffer told councillors this week: "The problem we have with Forest & Bird is that they agree with the policy but they want to replicate it in the [Regional Policy Statement], so when a review happens it can't be changed."
"We don't like the way Forest & Bird is essentially trying to lock it in, it should be a public process rather than behind closed doors."
Forest & Bird Otago/Southland regional manager Sue Maturin said it did not consider marine farming to be appropriate for internationally significant and special places such as Fiordland and the wild pristine waters of Stewart Island, or the marine mammal sanctuaries for Hector's dolphins in Curio Bay and Te Wae Wae.
The proposed Southland Regional Policy Statement was an opportunity to ensure this, she said.
"We strongly dispute the view that we are doing this behind closed doors. We are participating in a public process through the RMA, and any person or organisation could have opposed the outcomes sought by Forest & Bird through the submission and appeal process."
Forest & Bird had engaged in mediation with Environment Southland and other parties and most of the appeal points to the proposed Southland Regional Policy Statement had been amicably resolved.
"The remaining marine farming issue to be resolved is before the court, and Forest & Bird is actively working on this process."
- The Southland Times