Items of interest from this week's meetings of the Council's two key committees, Consents & Regulatory, and Policy & Planning:
Significant Māori sites being documented
A major effort is well under way to document Taranaki sites of significance to Māori, with good progress so far, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. Since 2019, Council staff have been researching publicly available information including press articles, old maps, video clips, treaty settlements, photographs and archival records. Details of about 800 sites have been compiled and officers are now working with individual iwi and hapū on changes and modifications. They’re also working with the region’s three district councils. Tangata whenua participation is crucial to the project, the Committee was told, and this work will not be rushed. The Council will take a flexible and supportive approach, recognising that iwi and hapū may need to devote their time and resources to other issues as well. The exercise is part of the review of the Council’s freshwater, land and air plans, and will feed into development of the new Natural Resources Plan.
Fresh look at swimming risks
An ongoing national study suggests that it’s wrong to always assume that rivers in farming areas are more likely to pose unacceptable microbiological health risks to swimmers, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. The Waitara River was one of 16 nationally to be sampled as part of a one-year ESR pilot study to find better ways of assessing freshwater health risks to swimmers. The study arises from concerns among scientists that the current 20-year-old freshwater health guidelines do not reflect actual risks and give swimmers the impression that water quality is worse than it really is. Nationwide, bacterial markers for birdlife were found in every sample. All urban rivers and some rural rivers had human faecal pollution, but some rural rivers did not show contamination by cattle or sheep. Samples from the Waitara River, taken at Bertrand Rd, had the lowest E. coli counts of selected rivers in dairy catchments and far lower than all those in urban areas. The study is moving into its second phase, with the same rivers to be sampled over a longer period. As with the pilot study, the Council and local hapū will continue to be involved in the sampling at Bertrand Rd.
Smoke-signals arise from rule-breaking
You could call it the ‘smoking gun’ effect: An analysis of a decade of air-quality complaints and incidents in Taranaki found that while odour is the most common issue, those involving smoke are the most likely to be verified breaches of environmental rules. In the case of smoke, it is straightforward to ascertain whether material being burnt and/or the location of a fire breaches the rules, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. But odour can be transitory and tolerance varies widely among individuals. So it is often not possible to verify whether an odour is ‘objectionable or offensive’ and thus in breach of Council’s Regional Air Quality Plan (RAQP). The Council deals with about 200 air-quality complaints and incidents annually. The analysis, part of a review of the RAQP, found that there is generally good compliance by those with resource consents allow air discharges, with a non-compliance rate of 2%, mostly involving odour. Three consented sites have accounted for more than half of recent incidents and complaints involving consent-holders. However, more than two-thirds of total complaints and incidents relate to ‘permitted’ activities for which no consent is required if certain conditions are met. About a quarter of these complaints are found to be justified upon investigation, with appropriate enforcement action taken.
Ferrets and co deserve targeting, say submitters
A move for ferrets, stoats and weasels to join possums as declared pest animals in Taranaki, putting obligations on land occupiers to take action to control them if required, has won general support in public consultation. The Council has received eight submissions on its proposal to add these mustelid species to the Regional Pest Management Plan for Taranaki, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. Seven are generally supportive but suggest modifications and amendments, and one expresses total opposition. Four submitters will present their cases verbally at a hearing later this month, and the Council will consider all submissions before making a final decision. Submitters include iwi, district councils, sector groups and individuals. Two submissions sought an amendment to include feral cats to the Regional Pest Management Plan for Taranaki. Council officers recommended declining the relief citing a number of factors including work currently being done with landowners participating in the Council’s Key Native Ecosystems programmes to control feral cats. The Council also provides support to other Council’s and landowners to control feral cats through the provision of cage traps.
New format for environmental stocktake
The Council’s next five-yearly State of the Environment (SOE) Report will be primarily digital, with interactive graphics and other online features, and published as a series of individual modules over a six-month period. The four previous SOE reports were published in book form, with PDFs available online. Work on the new report is now under way and all the modules will be drafted by the end of the year, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. Once published, the modules will be reviewed and updated periodically. The Resource Management Act obliges the Council to publish reviews of its monitoring results at least every five years, but does not lay down any particular format.
Tweaks suggested on agrichemicals
The Council supports a broadening and updating of national standards covering the use of agrichemicals, and has suggested ways to make the standards clearer and more comprehensive. The redrafted National Standard for Agrichemicals Management includes updates that take into account new legislation, technology and best practice and wider sector and product coverage. In a submission approved by the Policy & Planning Committee, the TRC suggests measures to make the standards clearer and easier to use, more aligned with existing legislation and more comprehensive by including, for example, disposal and decontamination in its scope.
Climate Change Commission report – TRC to review
It was agreed that the Council review the recently received first official report of He Pou a Rangi – the Climate Change Commission, with a view to making a submission on the report to reflect regional views by 14 March 2021.