The city is heading for a legal quagmire the size of the Whangamata marina fiasco if it proceeds with plans to put wind turbines in the Turitea Reserve.
Putting wind turbines in the Turitea Reserve will be a major legal challenge for the city council, an environment and planning lawyer has said.
Massey University planning lecturer Peter Horsley said the idea is laden with all sorts of legal fish hooks.
“And I’d suggest it’s going to be a major challenge if they want turbines in the heart of the reserve, given the legislative provisions.”
The first hurdles the council has to look at are under the Reserves Act.
“It (the act) is very clear about things that have been of concern to the citizens there is a very strong focus (in the act) on protecting indigenous flora and fauna and environmental values.”
Sections 3, 23 and 42 of the Act talk about ensuring the survival of indigenous flora and fauna, preserving the reserve’s value as a soil, water and forest conservation area and limits the cutting or destruction of trees and bush.
The requirements are given a stronger focus because the Turitea Management Plan also has requirements to protect flora and fauna, he says.
“I understand that some of that forest up there is virtually the last of its kind in the greater Manawatu, so, again, there is a much stronger focus to protect those particular values.”
Mr Horsley said the idea of having an eco-park and some mechanism to provide income is a good one.
“But, as always, it’s a matter of not just balancing the interests, but making sure the particular legal provisions are complied with. The challenge for the council is these provisions are high-order protection and the council will have to balance that one out.”
If the purpose of the reserve is changed to allow turbines, the council will then have to navigate through the resource consent process, he said.
“It’s the first time we have had these types of issues coming up in New Zealand of the two fronts the cumulative effects of turbines on the skyline and, in this case, with a council being directly involved and it’s a reserve, which makes it even more interesting.”
The other wind farms, on farmland, haven’t had to address the strong set of conservation issues surrounding this proposal, he said.
Cultural issues will also be looked at during the Resource Consent process.
The dilemma comes with putting competing interests in the reserve. The two initial purposes of the reserve the protection of flora and fauna and the water supply are reasonably consistent, but when renewable energy comes into the equation, it becomes problematic, he said.
“So the question then is to what extent can they bring turbines into the heart of the reserve or should they keep them on the margins?”
Mr Horsley said the council is obliged to follow the provisions under the Reserves Act and the Department of Conservation will have some role to ensure the provisions are complied with.
“If the council is in breach, there can be a judicial review, which is an expensive process.
“(The) most recent example is Chris Carter and the Whangamata marina, but I’m sure the council wouldn’t want to go through that, so they are going to have to make sure they comply with the Reserves Act requirement.”
Palmerston North City Council was invited to comment on the legal issues raised by Mr Horsley, but hadn’t done so in time for publication.DOC has written to the council over its concerns regarding the legality of putting a wind farm in the reserve.
Wanganui Conservancy conservator Bill Carline said DOC has had meetings with the council.
“Palmerston North City Council is going to write back to us very shortly in respect to my letter. We are certainly making progress.”
By Helen Harvey
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