Items of interest from this week’s meetings of the TRC’s two key committees, Consents & Regulatory, and Policy & Planning:
The two Committees generally meet every six weeks, on the same day. Each is made up of Councillors and external members, including representatives nominated by Iwi.
Riparian efforts ramping up
Impressive progress has been made protecting ringplain waterways with fences and vegetation, the Policy & Planning Committee was told, with more than 4800km of streambanks fenced and nearly 3000km planted under the Council’s Riparian Management Programme. This represents 86% of fencing and 72% of planting set out in the scheme’s individual property plans. Plan holders have so far ordered 450,000 plants for this winter’s planting season, compared with 360,000 at the same time last year, and the programme should be mostly completed by the end of the decade. The Committee was told an audit process has been developed to make it clear to holders what plan completion entails. The programme remains voluntary but land owners have been given clear notice that the Council intends making riparian protection mandatory. The Government is also considering similar moves, the Committee was told, but the Council believes its own requirements will meet any new national standards and may, in fact, be more comprehensive and effective. Fencing and planting waterways addresses many environmental issues arising from diffuse run-off. An independent NIWA report last year found that Taranaki’s riparian protection work to date has contributed to improved freshwater health and a reduction in bacteria levels.
Proposed Coastal Plan tweaked; hearing next
Changes to the Proposed Coastal Plan have been recommended after detailed discussions with submitters, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. The recommended changes include measures to manage and mitigate the potential effects of seismic surveying on little blue penguins, clarification of the status of utility infrastructure, clearer rules on alterations, maintenance and extensions to coastal structures, and a prohibition on new discharges of treated human wastewater. A hearing of submissions is likely to be held in July and some submitters have indicated they no longer wish to be heard, the Committee was told. The Hearing Committee will consist of two Councillors and an independent Commissioner with expertise in tikanga Māori and issues relevant to tangata whenua. Following further analysis after the hearing, the Council will finalise and adopt the new plan.
Climate change in the mix
Thought-provoking suggestions on climate change from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment are largely consistent with approaches taken by the Council, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. The Commissioner, Simon Upton, has warned of dangers and risks in the use of forests as carbon sinks, and also believes animal-generated emissions need to be treated differently to fossil-fuel emissions, as the former have a far shorter life than the latter. He advocates a ‘landscape’ approach where climate initiatives are integrated with measures seeking broad environmental gains. The Committee was told that the Council’s own programmes – improving water quality, establishing riparian protection, encouraging sustainable land management and enhancing biodiversity – are contributing significantly to climate change mitigation and adaptation as well as promoting social, economic and environmental sustainability.
Good marks for most consent holders
Consent compliance for the 2017/2018 year has now been fully reported, with the Consents & Regulatory Committee receiving the final nine of 97 compliance monitoring reports. The reports vary from individual sites, most of them involving multiple consents, to combined reports covering consents issued in particular catchments or activity categories. The latter cover multiple consent holders, most of them holding more than one consent. Overall, the Council found a high level of environmental performance and compliance for 76%, with another 20% rated ‘good’ and the remainder requiring improvement. The monitoring reports are prepared by, and based on the work of, the Council’s experienced and qualified scientific staff.
Getting with the plan
Useful initiatives promoting farm environmental plans have sprung from increased national interest in the concept, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. Taranaki was a pioneer in farm environment planning with the Council’s successful riparian management and sustainable land management programmes. Now other Councils are picking them up as regulatory tool and the Government is considering doing likewise. Agricultural sector groups are also promoting sector-specific plans, with Fonterra presenting its own initiative in a presentation to the Committee. The Council is developing an online portal to provide farmers with wide-ranging information about good farm practice and farm environmental plans.
Rotorangi holding its own
Lake Rotorangi is not as nutrient-rich or oxygen-depleted as predicted in the 1980s when water rights were issued allowing construction of the hydro dam that formed the lake, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. The latest environmental monitoring report says the lake meets the Government’s ‘A-grade’ standard for swimmability, and scores B or C for other freshwater standards relating to nutrients, phytoplankton and ammonia. The report notes that reducing sediment and run-off is the key to improvements, and a great deal of riparian protection work has been done upstream in the Pātea River and Mangaehu River catchments. In the upstream Pātea catchment, 1008km of riverbank and streambank now has adequate riparian protection as the result of individual property plans being implemented under the Council’s Riparian Management Programme. The report also notes that hornwort has surpassed oxygen weed as the dominant pest plant species in the lake. Although hornwort is unlikely to have a big impact on the lake’s ecology or the hydro scheme, it is highly invasive and could pose a greater threat to other lakes. Signage at Rotorangi reminds lake users that they are responsible for cleaning their boats and equipment before they leave.
Plain sailing for harbour safety
Measures to ensure all users can safely navigate New Plymouth’s harbour and port area have been endorsed in an independent peer review, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. The Port Safety Management System, developed by the Council and Port Taranaki Ltd, sets out a management framework to ensure safe navigation in what is a relatively confined area where frequent shipping movements occur alongside an area used heavily for boating and other aquatic recreation. The peer review was carried out for Maritime NZ and found the Safety Management System is robust, credible and effective, and reflects best practice. It suggested three minor administrative improvements. The system was the first in the country when it was developed in 2007, and has since been reviewed twice. The latest peer review noted the Council’s innovative use of a marine panel of experts to support and advise the Council-appointed harbourmaster, calling this a key communication and information-sharing tool essential to the success of port and harbour operations. The Committee was told other regions may follow this example.