Mataura asks Govt to act

A sign warning of hazardous ouvea. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
A sign warning of hazardous ouvea. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Mataura residents stood up last night and asked central Government to rid their community of ouvea premix.

It was a request made by about 400 people who turned out to a volatile and angry meeting.

The people of Mataura wanted to know when the hazardous material would be removed from their township.

The answer never came — making them more agitated, upset and vocal.

When combined with water, ouvea can generate poisonous ammonia gas.

Talking heads from different organisations were laughed at and heckled as the evening continued.

It began when the microphone wouldn’t work at the beginning of the meeting. A shout came from the crowd, "the council’s turned the power off".

Tension eased slightly when Invercargill Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt walked in late with deputy mayor Toni Biddle — in fact the crowd applauded.

Immediately Gore Mayor Tracy Hicks took the microphone.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand, Civil Defence, Mr Hicks and others spoke about either the history of ouvea in the area, or what had happened during the floods last week.

Stop the Dross member Cherie Chapman said the organisation had been working for six years to try to get all parties to take responsibility for the storage of the dross, including the ouvea premix, and to try to work through a solution.

Director for the Ministry for the Environment Shaun Lewis said he had a conversation with the parties involved before yesterday’s public meeting.

"We’ve got some ideas for where these materials will go.

"The location we’re looking at is designed to take this kind of stuff. It’s bunded, it’s got concrete walls and it’s got ammonia monitors. It’s designed to take hazardous materials."

They were continuing to look at legal options and making Mataura safe.

There would be a meeting next week to try to fast-track the process and he gave a time frame of four to six months to have the dross removed.

One resident spoke of Rio Tinto’s track record of abusing small towns around the world.

Gore Mayor Tracy Hicks talks to the 400-strong crowd at the Mataura Youth Trust Hall last night....
Gore Mayor Tracy Hicks talks to the 400-strong crowd at the Mataura Youth Trust Hall last night. PHOTO: KAREN PASCO

"If you think Rio Tinto are going to come to the party, you might as well as forget it.

"I hope this Government will stand up and be counted," the person said.

"I’m afraid I don’t trust anybody with what we’ve been through."

Ms Biddle said the people of Southland had the opportunity to come together and hold the government to task.

"I feel really sad this evening because I feel as if we’re missing a really big opportunity, here," she said.

She apologised to the crowd for what they had had to endure but said the town had an opportunity, with a national news camera present, to make a plea to Government.

"We have one opportunity and this may well be it, to stand the hell up and stick together and to say to our Government ‘please Jacinda, please, our elected members have tried to sort this shit for years’.

"You need to stand up and if Rio Tinto don’t come to the table we ask our elected members for the region to help Southland.

"You need to do that tonight for our generation and all the rest to come, I’m begging you."

Ms Chapman then asked the crowd to pass a resolution that to urge the Government to act now and remove the toxic waste from Southland.

The crowd was unanimous in its support.

Another meeting was planned for six weeks’ time to keep the community informed on progress.

A spokesman for Environment Minister David Parker's office said yesterday the minister was yet to receive legal advice on Rio Tinto's responsibility for the ouvea premix, while a spokeswoman for Environment Southland confirmed the organisation was also still waiting for its own legal advice on the situation.

Neither could yet say when they expected to receive their legal advice.


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