Home » World » Result of inquiry over river dumping to be discussed behind closed doors – World news

Result of inquiry over river dumping to be discussed behind closed doors – World news

Result of inquiry over river dumping to be discussed behind closed doors – World news
Otago Regional councillor Michael Laws is pushing for the public release of a report into the dumping of materials into the Clutha River.

Ross Giblin/Stuff

Otago Regional councillor Michael Laws is pushing for the public release of a report into the dumping of materials into the Clutha River.

Regional council staff gave a local company permission to dump 20 truckloads of contaminated material into New Zealand’s second-longest river, but what transpired next is what really muddied the waters.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPC) began investigating after the Otago Regional Council reported its own staff had allowed a Balclutha haulage company to dump the waste into the Clutha River on February 9, 2021.

The investigation, which began in March 2021, was hampered by the fact some regional council staff did not speak to the EPA about what happened, emails obtained by councillor Michael Laws have revealed.

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Late last year, the council appointed retired High Court Judge Sir Graham Panckhurst, QC, to run an independent inquiry into the matter.

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The demolition waste was dumped by a haulage firm into the Clutha River near Balclutha.

John Bisset/Stuff

The demolition waste was dumped by a haulage firm into the Clutha River near Balclutha.

The inquiry aimed to determine whether the contaminant could have been removed earlier and if so, why that did not happen.

It also looked at whether the regional council’s processes and procedures could be improved to better meet its environmental responsibilities.

Chairman Andrew Noone said councillors received a copy of Panckhurst’s report on Wednesday.

The Otago Regional Council building on Dunedin’s Stafford St.

Supplied

The Otago Regional Council building on Dunedin’s Stafford St.

He declined to release the report, saying it would be considered at the next council meeting on June 29, but in the publicly excluded part of the meeting.

That annoyed Laws, who urged for the full report to be made publicly available. He was concerned it could be watered down into a “bland summary”.

“If you are going to question actions of your council, to the point of calling in a retired judge of the calibre of Sir Graham Panckhurst, then say you have every intention of being open and transparent about what you are doing, then there is a moral if not a legal responsibility placed upon you to release the result of the inquiry in its entirety,” Laws said.

Central Otago NZ

The trail travels alongside the powerful Clutha Mata-Au river

Noone said the council was “aware of their obligations” under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, but he would not comment on the report’s contents, findings or cost until councillors had fully considered and assessed it.

Laws believed the cost of the inquiry, or rather the legal bills before the inquiry was launched, would be in the six figures.

He alleged then-council chief executive Sarah Gardner, who announced her resignation in May, did not tell councillors about EPA’s investigation when it was launched, and later refused to answer questions about it.

Then-Otago Regional Council chief executive Sarah Gardner, pictured, did not tell councillors about the EPA investigation, councillor Michael Laws says.

Supplied

Then-Otago Regional Council chief executive Sarah Gardner, pictured, did not tell councillors about the EPA investigation, councillor Michael Laws says.

“We didn’t know.”

A code of conduct complaint was made following Laws’ claims of a “cover-up”. He was later cleared of any wrongdoing.

The council launched the Panckhurst inquiry after Laws obtained documents from the EPA about its investigation.

Laws understood only a summary of the report would be released, which he said was disappointing given it was public information paid for by ratepayers.

“We … made a pledge when we initiated the inquiry that we would release the findings.”

Assurances were also given to staff that they “could speak freely and frankly” without the risk of any employment consequences, he said.

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