The fate of a billion-dollar wind farm project in North Wairarapa now rests with a three-man panel of commissioners who yesterday wrapped up a week-long resource consent hearing in Masterton.
Commissioners Roger Lane, Philip Milne and David McMahon have reserved a decision on whether to grant consent to Genesis Energy for the Castle Hill Wind Farm project that would be the largest in New Zealand.
The last of a long line of submissions against the project was heard yesterday, along with comment from engineering and planning staff from the two district councils and two regional councils the project would impact on territorially.
Farmer Hugh Blundell, speaking on behalf of Waimea and Lindell Trusts, told the panel he disagreed with evidence by Genesis witness Frank Boffa, of Boffa Miskell Ltd, saying wind turbines would not change the landscape.
“Of course they will, with 155m towers, flattening of the hills, scarring from the road and tracking.” Mr Blundell said the wind farm would undermine hill-country farming and have far-reaching effects on the communities.
He said a proposed switching station and transmission lines would be only 400m from the Waimea boundary, directly off the end of an airstrip the farm has been using for 36 years. “This has the potential to be extremely hazardous to the fertiliser planes flying off the strip.”
If the strip became too dangerous to use the aircraft would have to fly further afield to a strip not hindered by the wind farm, adding cost to the farmers.
The farmland was within the top 10 per cent of hill-country farming in Wairarapa for production, and statements by the applicant that the wind farm would not devalue property was “unfounded”.
“Why should we, as owners, not benefiting from the project, risk devaluation of our land? Genesis with all its financial backing cannot produce evidence devaluation will not happen.’
An “officers response” to matters raised during the hearing was tabled by consultant Mark St Clair, on behalf of Horizons Regional Council, jointly with Richard Percy, a Greater Wellington Regional Council adviser. That touched on several points that needed to be revisited or modified.
But both men concluded that with those achieved, consent could be granted, subject to conditions pertaining to all aspects of the proposal.
Those included pre-construction, the location of river and stream crossings for internal roads and tracks, structure design and conditions pertaining to wildlife and fish habitat.
The commissioners questioned Masterton District Council roading engineer Alec Birch and Grey Wilson, consultant planner for the Tararua District Council.
Most matters concerned the implementation, and potential problems, of a traffic management plan for the wind farm construction, that would involve regular heavy traffic movement and how that would impact on school bus routes.
Also canvassed were issues over the movement of stock, dust problems on unsealed roads and responsibility for the ongoing maintenance of roads newly sealed for the wind farm’s construction.
The panel asked for written reports to be submitted within the next week addressing matters still in dispute between Genesis and council officers.
If given the go-ahead the wind farm would cover 30,000ha with boundaries 20km northeast of Masterton, 20km east of Eketahuna and Pahiatua and 15km west of the Wairarapa coast, north of Castlepoint.
The closest settlements would be Tiraumea, Alfredton, Bideford, Tinui, Pongaroa, Makuri and Mauriceville.
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