Cantabrians make 'desperate' bid to stop quake landfill

Dust blowing off the demolition landfill (Tracy Unger)
Dust blowing off the demolition landfill (Tracy Unger)

A Canterbury woman living in the shadow of a controversial earthquake dump has broken down in tears during a legal submission about the impact on her home, as a group of neighbours make a last-ditch bid to get the project scrapped.

Bernadette Williams described her year-long struggle to commissioners at a formal hearing today, running through the flooding, dust, noise, a lack of privacy, and serious vibration brought on by heavy machinery operating just metres from her home on the outskirts of Kaiapoi.

The submission was part of a joint Waimakariri District Council (WDC) and Environment Canterbury (ECan) hearing brought on by a series of applications from a local business, Clemence Drilling, in an attempt to alter and widen resource consent for a clean fill dump on Doubledays Rd.

The business has been served repeated abatement notices for packing too much concrete, bricks, rubble and other earthquake demolition material into the wrong places at the site. They now want to extend to adjoining properties, and use a retrospective consent to legalise the breaches.

Ms Williams, who lives just metres from the landfill, said the vibration had been so intense at time it cracked a window at her property, with the movement feeling like a "magnitude 5 earthquake".

Her rural lifestyle block on Neeves Rd was once home to hawks, tui, bellbird, fantails, kingfishers and white heron, but the birdlife had disappeared since the earthworks, she said.

"This was an ideal quiet peaceful rural environment, which was what we had searched for over seven years, not too far from town but in the country," she told the hearing.

"We can only hope that common sense and justice will prevail when considering the applicant's applications for these changes, to make legal what he has done illegally, and consider the impact he has had on not only the environment but on a lot of people's lives and lifestyles."

Ms Williams had planned to retire at the property but recently moved to Australia out of desperation after years battling against the landfill. She flew in for the hearing, continues to oppose the application and is renting the property out to others.

Nearby Doubledays Rd resident Joanne Rumary described how her family had spent 24 years landscaping her property, planting shelterbelts, native trees and a large orchard to create an "idyllic rural lifestyle".

The family now had to deal with large dust plumes which put their health at risk, and the "heartbreak" of seeing natural wildlife driven out as their environment was destroyed, she said.

Ms Rumary also argued the company's bid to extend the landfill to farmland on their boundary would have serious impact on her way of life, health and land valuation.

"To see good pasture land developed into what can only be described as a commercial operation, that blights the rural landscape can only be describe d as a tragedy," she said.

"We oppose the applications and request that it be declined."

Another resident on Doubledays Rd, Tracy Unger, urged the commissioners to decline the bid to extend the operation to farmland near her home. The company had breached almost every consent condition on its existing dumping operation a few paddocks down the road, she said.

"There has been little to no enforcement witnessed, due to the severe damage done to existing land and waterways. We are disgusted with the entire process and have little trust in the capabilities of the WDC or ECan to properly enforce the conditions," she said.

"We cannot bear to go through the anguish which the applicant has already caused [Ms Williams]."

A lawyer acting for the neighbours, Kate Rogers, earlier cast doubt on the evidence the business is using to support their bid, arguing there is a lack of information and serious impact for locals.

The company's owner and operator, David Clemence, has engaged a suite of experts to support his bid including an air quality scientist, river and landscape specialists, and serving district councillor Peter Farrant as an engineering consultant.

The neighbours were left with no option but to hire a lawyer and make a submission at the hearing, following months of observing and photographing the illegal dumping in an attempt to convince local authorities to intervene, Ms Rogers said.

"My clients do not do this out of vindictiveness or because they have the resource to oppose these applications, as they do not. They do so out of desperation and a sense of powerlessness," she told the hearing.

"From their point of view, he has benefited from his behaviour, and they have borne the cost. They are desperate to avoid continuing to pay for the applicant's poor behaviour."

Clemence Drilling had claimed the dump offered benefits to the region as earthquake demolition was still widespread, but the site on Doubledays Rd and Neeves Rd, near Woodford Glen Speedway, was not appropriate because of the adverse effect on neighbours, Ms Rogers said.

The lawyer argued evidence from two experts, including a charted professional engineer, shows the illegal overfilling created an increased flood risk for the nearby properties, and stormwater would "inevitably" leak into streams and drains.

She appealed for the entire application to be declined but, failing that, argued any consent should come with several conditions, including a limit on how high and where the rubble can be piled.

The proposed conditions would require significant and immediate earthworks as the stockpiles, which are around 13.5 metres high in places, already back right onto one of the neighbouring properties and are at least 5 metres higher than the consented limit.

The complainants also wanted testing to ensure the material wasn't contaminated, an assurance the work would be finished within three years and a bond payable to the local council to keep Clemence Drilling accountable to promises of restoration.

"My clients have no confidence that the applicant will comply with conditions of consent, and are concerned about the effects of the non-compliance of them," Ms Rogers said.

"I would emphasise that although there are benefits to earthquake recovery in this application, those benefits are not sufficient to outweigh the significant adverse effects resulting from the historic activities."

Water management engineer Paul May raised concern about the lack of information on stormwater and flooding risks at the site. The company had failed to develop an adequate water plan and relied on several assumptions, he said.

Mr May suggested it would be reasonable to assume stormwater would end up on the surface, follow the path of least resistance, and flood into neighbouring properties or waterways.

There was also an unavoidable risk of contaminated materials slipping into the landfill, including asbestos, which could be difficult to pick up unless a rigorous testing system was in place. Clemence Drilling had already failed to follow best practice on several occasions, and repeatedly failed to meet its resource consent conditions, he said.

"It's a hard pill for submitters in particular, and often councils, and people like myself to hear that an applicant can breach consent and do unauthorised activities, and then apply for a retrospective consent," Mr May told the hearing.

"They haven't acknowledged risks which could be significant, and they don't provide a framework for identifying if those risks are real."

The approach suggested by the company would also create a regular need for compliance monitoring from ECan, which could come at a considerable cost, he said.

Landscape architect Peter Rough highlighted the serious visual impact the landfill had on the neighbours. One local, Bernadette Williams, says the view from her home had been seriously affected because of the large amounts of rubble.

A line of willows had been torn out along the landfill's boundary, giving Ms Williams a very unattractive view, and seriously impacting on the natural rural character and "away from it all" feeling of her property, he said.

"Rural land owners are not just concerned about the view from their dwelling and its surrounding, it's the view from the entity of the land."

Other homeowners, including Ms Unger and Ms Rumary, would be seriously impacted by plans to spread the landfill to farmland near their properties on Doubledays Rd, he said.

The hearing adjourned early today to allow time for a discussion between the two parties and will resume in a month, with reporting officers from WDC and ECan yet to give evidence.

The company's lawyer Kerry Smith asked for a break to allow time for further consultation between the two parties. He hinted the discussions may lead to significant changes to the company's original proposal.

The request was echoed by Ms Rogers on behalf of the neighbours, and was granted by Commissioner David Caldwell and Commissioner Mike Freeman.

A final decision may be some time away as the commissioners are expected to take around three weeks to process the information and issue their judgements.

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