A group trying to stop Meridian Energy’s proposed $1.5 billion Project Hayes wind farm is changing tack with their arguments ahead of an Environment Court hearing to be held in Central Otago from May 19.
Maniototo Environmental Society member Grahame Sydney said the group met lawyers in Queenstown on Friday to discuss changes to its argument against the development.
Mr Sydney said the group’s appeal would now have a more national approach, after the Government announced its Ministry for the Environment would be involved in the hearing process.
‘‘Our appeal was altered by the Government’s determination to take this on to a level of national significance. We have to broaden our capabilities and include arguments being considered by the court now such as economic benefits to the nation,’’ he said.
Mr Sydney said the Government’s decision to use the Ministry for the Environment in the hearing process rather than the Ministry of Energy was curious.
‘‘It’s a fairly blatant decision at the top end to try and imply that the environmental impacts of these industrial wind estates is insignificant. In other words, they the Government want people to think there can’t be anything wrong them wind farms and is trying to minimise the extraordinary and destructive footprint that they will create on the landscape,’’ he said.
Project Hayes, to be established on the Lammermoor Range in Central Otago, comprises 176 wind turbines each 160m tall, and was granted initial resource consent last year.
Shortly after the Central Otago District Council and Otago Regional Council decision last October, 11 appeal groups stated their interest in having cases heard by Environment Court Judge Jon Jackson and three independent commissioners. The six-week hearing was expected to involve up to 81 witnesses as well as 24 lawyers, planners and representatives.
Mr Sydney said his appeal group would make sure the environmental effects of the development would be considered, despite the Government’s attempts to ‘‘push that argument aside’’.
‘‘We believe it Project Hayes is enormously damaging. Promoting the issue through the Ministry for the Environment is a manipulative decision from the Government to make people believe that these things wind turbines are an excellent answer to the electricity problem they are saying exists.
‘‘All our research, findings, and beliefs contradict that,’’ he said.
Minister for the Environment Trevor Mallard could not be contacted yesterday.
By Rosie Manins
4 February 2008
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