The Te Uku wind farm stoush looks destined to be decided in court whatever the decision from the just-ended hearing , says Bruce Holloway.
Wel Networks’ proposal to build a $200 million wind farm at Te Uku will almost certainly end up in the Environment Court.
The hearing into the 28-turbine project, which began on November 19, finally wrapped up in Ngaruawahia yesterday, with four commissioners chaired by Michael Savage now charged with ruling on Wel’s application.
But the battle lines in this saga have become so firmly drawn it will be a major surprise if their decision whatever it may be is not appealed to the Environment Court.
Earlier this week, opponents Rodger Gallagher and Sean Cox both let slip comments during their submissions that they had further material they were saving for the court if necessary.
Meanwhile having spend several million already, Wel Networks is unlikely to give up its quest for a project it believes will become an integral part of its network expansion in the west.
Despite the passion, rigour and sheer quirkiness of Raglan residents’ opposition to the wind farm, any commissioner rejection of the project is likely to hinge on far more mundane issues such as the fact it would appear not to comply with ridgeline protection policies in the operative district plan.
In his 97-page closing submission, Wel counsel Simon Berry focused heavily on legal issues in relation to Waikato District Council’s operative and proposed district plans.
“This case represents something of a stand-off between alleged adverse local effects (primarily visual, noise and health) and inconsistency with the district plans (as regards the ridgeline policy) and national benefits including the very clear national direction in favour of wind power,” he said.
Mr Berry said when the “alleged effects” of the wind farm were objectively tested and considered on the basis of expert evidence they were either “not a cause for concern” (public health, noise, tourism, property valuation), or could be addressed through consent conditions.
He rejected evidence about alternatives to wind power presented by opponents, arguing it was of no relevance in considering the merits of Wel’s project.
Further, he said that the commercial viability of the wind farm was also beyond the scope of the hearing, and Wel’s evidence on that front was directed solely towards establishing the need for consents to be granted in full.
Because of that he refused to respond to evidence from Raglan consultant Gallagher which cast serious doubt over the project finances.
Given the complexity of the issues, Wel has indicated it does not expect the commissioners to decide within 15 working days.
1 March 2008
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