Mine pollutes sacred waters

RACHEL THOMAS
Last updated 08:36 11/07/2014
Wainui Stream
BRUCE MERCER/Fairfax NZ

SACRED WATERS: Wainui Stream, which links out to Kawhia Harbour, absorbed 6000 cubic metres of soiled water from NZ Steel.

Patrick Maikuku
SHANE MORTON/Fairfax NZ
WATER WATCHDOG: Kaumatua Patrick Maikuku says NZ Steel is ignoring the voice of his people.

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Muddy minewater from a New Zealand Steel site has leaked into sacred Maori waters, and a local kaumatua is saying it's time the company was held to account.

During a pond collapse that occurred at the iron sand plant at Taharoa near Kawhia Harbour on July 3, 6000 cubic metres of water that would normally run into an NZ Steel waste runoff pond flowed into the Wainui Stream. In relative terms, an Olympic swimming pool is typically 2500cum.

Local kaumatua Patrick Maikuku, of Ngati Mahuta iwi, a sub-tribe of Tainui, said NZ Steel had ignored the voice of his people again and again.

In 1992, Waikato Times reported NZ Steel waited two weeks to stop dirty minewater from the runoff leaking into the same lake.

"The time has come that they need to be prosecuted. We can't just let it happen because the life of the fish and everything gets affected from the lake."

Maikuku has been a self-appointed environmental watchdog at Taharoa for more than two decades. "If you don't look after the environment these things occur."

A statement provided to Waikato Times by Vicki Woodley, manager of external affairs for NZ Steel, says some ground sand between the pond and the stream washed into Wainui Stream but "immediate actions were taken" to ensure nothing more was released.

The statement says NZ Steel is working with council to "identify any environmental impact of the failure on the stream life and to look at any requirements for rehabilitation of the stream". Discussions will be held with affected parties before any stream rehabilitation plans are actioned, it says.

A memorandum was signed in July 2012 by NZ Steel, kaumatua and residents that outlined issues "should be handled in a way that reflects the needs of people and the business". Maikuku said the needs of Ngati Mahuta - to protect sacred waters - were being ignored.

Woodley said the memorandum of understanding was being followed.

The incident is under formal investigation by Waikato Regional Council and internal investigation by NZ Steel.

Council spokeswoman Wendy Valois said there was no continuing leak into the Wainui Stream and the discharge did not appear to have affected Lake Taharoa.

"Any potential environmental effect would likely be as a result of the depositing of sediment in the channel of the Wainui Stream, as sediment would be the main contaminant in the discharged water."

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- Waikato Times

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