Forest & Bird takes court action on wetlands

Sue Maturin
Sue Maturin
Forest & Bird says the future of Otago wetlands is at stake as it takes the Otago Regional Council and NZSki to court over development at the Remarkables.

Environmental lawyer Sally Gepp filed the statement of claim to the High Court in Dunedin yesterday on behalf of the organisation.

The action relates to the granting of a land use consent in March to NZSki Ltd to extend its learners slope at the Remarkables skifield.

Internal regional council reports said this work would destroy the 100sq m of wetland, which was protected in the council’s water plan.

NZSki has rejected this, saying the wetland was only modified.

Forest & Bird Otago and Southland central regional manager Sue Maturin said it decided to take legal action because the council granted a non-notified consent that resulted in the "complete destruction of a regionally significant wetland".

"We don’t want that to happen to any more wetlands.

"We’re worried about the council’s robustness in protecting wetlands from destruction in the future."

The wetland could not now be reinstated, she said.

"We just want to make certain that the council is interpreting its plans the way it’s meant to be and is upholding the rule of law."

In the statement of claim Forest & Bird says the council failed to properly consider the Resource Management Act (RMA) when granting the consent.

This included the council disregarding "effects on conservation values" because it had consent from the Department of Conservation and not properly considering a science report it commissioned.

The council "erred in law" by not properly considering its own water plan, Forest & Bird argued.

It also did not make reference to relevant sections of the RMA around wetlands and made an "irrelevant" consideration around the permissive nature of the ski zone in the Queenstown Lakes district plan, the statement of claim said.

Forest & Bird argued the project did not remediate or mitigate the "loss of the wetland".

The project involved NZSki extending the existing learners slope of the skifield, including the construction of two surface escalators, as well as track access to Shadow Basin.

The consent was not notified, despite a report by the council’s resource science unit saying it should be.

Several council planners did not agree with the  decision.

Council chief executive Sarah Gardner personally signed it off.

Ms Gardner and NZSki chief executive Paul Anderson both declined to comment yesterday, as the matter was before the court.

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