The normally picturesque view from Coronet Peak towards
Arrowtown was ruined by smoke from permitted controlled
burn-offs on Wednesday. The Otago Regional Council says it
will be looking at ways to address the 'significant issue',
which causes problems across Central Otago and around
Dunedin. Photo supplied.
The Otago Regional Council had no ''quick fix'' to remedy
air pollution caused by outdoor burn-offs - described as a
''significant issue'' across the Otago and Central Otago
ORC air quality scientist Deborah Mills, of Dunedin, told the
Otago Daily Times yesterday the council would be
discussing options in the coming weeks, which would likely
include educational sessions with farmers.
However, Queenstown Lakes District Council principal rural
fire officer Gordon Bailey said burn-offs had been a practice
in the Wakatipu for ''100 years or more'' and it was a
''necessary part of many farming operations''.
Farmers traditionally carried out burn-offs during forecasted
periods of settled weather - typically from August to October
- to reduce fuel loads and stimulate grass regrowth.
While there had been more burn-offs recently, Mr Bailey said
that was due to the favourable conditions and he had no
opinion on the ORC's plans to identify potential
The Wakatipu basin has been under clouds of smoke for several
days this week, the result of burn-offs on farmland around
The same problem had been experienced in Cromwell, Clyde and
Alexandra recently, Ms Mills said.
While the ORC had removed its monitor from Arrowtown, due to
construction, images taken from Coronet Peak on Wednesday
appeared to be more pollution than the National Environmental
Standards allowed, she said.
''It looks similar to ... a forest fire a few years ago
outside of Dunedin.''
However, some residents had questioned the practice given the
ORC had recently introduced its Clean Air Warm Homes
Assistance programme, required by the Ministry for the
Environment, focusing on clean heating appliances which, in
part, improved air quality.
From January 1, 2012 only woodburners meeting standards
approved by the MfE were permitted to be installed in homes
in the ''Air Zone 1'' category - Alexandra, Clyde, Arrowtown,
Cromwell and Milton.
''I understand residents thinking: 'We're doing our bit, what
about everyone else?'
''Yes, residents are doing their bit ... now we've got to
look, again, at this issue of outdoor burning and say: 'Is
this acceptable, or are we going to do something different?'
''There will be talks in the next couple of weeks about ...
where we go from here.''
There were alternative options for farmers including
composting and chipping.
Ms Mills said both options were more time-consuming and
costly, however, ''that is probably always going to be the
''We need a closer relationship with TAs [territorial
authorities] around this issue ... we might need to look at
when things should be permitted and not permitted.''
Exacerbating the issue in the Wakatipu this week was a
weather pattern including a ''big high pressure just sitting
For farmers that weather pattern was ideal, with little wind
to risk an out-of-control burn, however, it also meant the
smoke was ''just not moving'', Ms Mills said.
''The ORC is aware [of the issue].
''It's fair to say it's been a little bit on the backburner
because we've had such a strong focus on the clean heat,
clean air programme - getting the towns and residents really
focused on that effort.
''It's always just been in the background, but it is coming
to the foreground.
''None of this has been an easy fix - it's been a long, hard
road and we've got a ways to go.''
An out-of-control burn-off on land bordering the Remarkables
ski area access road on Wednesday afternoon appeared to be
fully extinguished, Mr Bailey said.
About 40ha of land was destroyed after the fire jumped a
break, established by land owner and permit holder Mike Mee.
Mr Bailey said ''most of the costs'' associated with fighting
the fire would be met by Mr Mee.