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Any contamination of Otago's inshore coastal environment as a result of harbour dredge dumping is highly unlikely but could be of high impact if it does occur, Environment Court judge Jeff Smith says.
Judge Smith gave an oral decision yesterday on the appeal by the East Otago Taiapure Management Committee, Southern Clams and Otago Rock Lobster Association against the conditions of Port Otago's consent to dump 7.2 million cu m of material from its dredging of Otago Harbour.
After a week of court hearings and non-public specialist caucuses, most of the fisheries interests' concerns had been resolved, Judge Smith said.
However, he turned down a request by the groups that their representatives on the port's consultative groups be paid for their attendance.
A key outcome was the inclusion in the consent and environmental management plan of recognition of any discernible adverse effect on the inshore coastal environment, including the kelp forest, he said.
It recognised there would be an effect at dump site AO but that it would recover in the short to medium term.
An adaptive management regime used in the port's other consents for the Next Generation Project was also adopted, including the use of the project group, Ngai Tahu group and technical group to make ongoing recommendations that were appropriate regarding the effect of the dumping.
An environmental turbidity limit was to be established based on baseline monitoring the port was required to do and approved by the Otago Regional Council.
If it was exceeded, dredging was to stop and the council had the power to review the consent or cancel it.
Turbidity monitoring was to take place at a site about 1500m south of the centre of the disposal site and 1500m west of the site, and the telemetry results from those would be posted on Port Otago's website daily.
Another site, 1km to 2km northeast of Cornish Head near the off-shore edge of the area's kelp forest, was also to be established but it would not be used for compliance.
The panel, which included commissioners Alex Sutherland and Anne Leijenn, also agreed biological monitoring of the area for baseline data should be done but the area was subject to agreement under the environmental management plan, Judge Smith said.
The risk to rock lobster at the dump site was regarded as minimal.
A written decision would be issued next year, he said.