Plan might put forestry in danger

City Forests CEO Grant Dodson. Photo: ODT files
City Forests CEO Grant Dodson. Photo: ODT files
The Dunedin City Council is worried about how proposed land and water rules might damage the prospects of its forestry company.

The council this week approved an extensive and detailed submission to the Otago Regional Council about draft provisions that might affect how it delivers water, wastewater and stormwater services.

At a meeting this week, the city council decided it should add "commentary that supports the concerns expressed by City Forests about the effects of the plan on forestry operations".

City Forests is owned by the city council and the company’s chief executive Grant Dodson last week warned of dire consequences for the industry if proposed changes were allowed to go ahead unadjusted.

Under the regional council proposal, a 50m setback would be implemented from waterways on a slope of greater than 10 degrees.

Mr Dodson said City Forests’ Waipori Forest was at risk of losing 49% of its productive area and nearly $17million in crop value, while copping emissions trading scheme (ETS) liability of more than $76m.

For the company overall, the 50m setbacks would mean a 34% loss in productive area, more than $64m loss in crop value and almost $198m in ETS liability.

Cr David Benson-Pope said it was appropriate to reference the company’s concerns, because the implications of what Mr Dodson outlined were serious for the forestry industry, as well as the council’s company.

The council was not precise at the meeting about what wording it would arrive at, but Cr Lee Vandervis offered his own pointed commentary.

The draft land and water regional plan was a proposal to "wreck our entire forestry industry and much else".

There were vague notions about improving water quality, but most people he represented were happy enough with water quality and would be happier still if the regional council was not trying to make the city council’s forestry and Three Waters operations unworkable.

It was more evidence for why Dunedin should be part of a unitary authority replacing the two councils.

Cr Andrew Whiley said the regional council was doing its job as a regulatory authority and it was important to remember the provisions were in draft form and could change.

He was worried about the city council falling foul of wastewater rules and possibly paying penalties if it faced challenging conditions for managing the network during storms.

Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich said it was important to express grave concerns about the potential for "colossal" costs being inflicted on the city "at the stroke of a pen".

Cr Steve Walker said the regional plan was a regulatory requirement under the national policy statement for freshwater management.

"Cr Vandervis suggested ... our ratepayers are being hard done by, but what we do get, thankfully, is a reduction, hopefully, in wastewater discharges to our environment, which should not be under-estimated in Aotearoa New Zealand, where our record to date is quite appalling."

Cr Benson-Pope said the city council should be doing better in its management of stormwater and with wastewater discharges from some of its smaller communities.

Cr Christine Garey said people "damn well should be" concerned about water quality.

The city council’s relationship with the regional council had improved and allowed for each to provide constructive, if direct, feedback to the other.

The it approved its submission unanimously.