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Lobbyists wind up for court hearing

Ex-All Black Graeme Higginson is on a crusade to have the public voice heard in Meridian Energy’s bid to fasttrack its Project Hurunui Wind proposal.

It comes after the Hurunui District and Canterbury Regional councils agreed to a request by Meridian Energy in June last year to refer its resource consent process directly to the Environment Court.

This means it will be the first such case nationally to be heard by direct referral under the amended Resource Management Act (2009).

Hurunui Mayor Winton Dalley said the council’s unprecedented move was prompted by considerations of procedural efficiency and ratepayer cost-savings.

“The large number of submissions received. . . indicates that the likelihood of an appeal if the application is heard by council is so high that ultimately it would be appealed to the Environment Court for a final determination anyway.

“Referring it directly just speeds up the inevitable,” he said.

Mr Dalley also said the council considered it more advantageous to maintain a neutral position on the Meridian proposal than would be the case if it heard the matter itself.

The court hearing has now been set for mid-this year, sparking an urgent appeal for funds and skills by lobby group Glenmark Community Against Wind Turbines Inc (GCAWTI). It is determined to contest the 33-turbine wind farm – with turbines up to 130.5m tall – stretching over 34km2 of farmland from Omihi to Greta Valley, on the eastern side of SH1.

Chairman Graeme Higginson said GCAWTI was founded when the Glenmark community realised the implications of the council’s “streamlined” process.

“For the past year our committee has been very busy, given our limited resources, researching and deciding which aspects of the wind farm give us most concern in terms of adverse impacts on our community.”

Opposition to Mainpower’s Mt Cass wind farm, which was recently consented by the court, focused primarily on ecological impacts, he said. GCAWTI intended to mount a much broader case that he hoped would be more convincing.

“We are in the final stages of engaging experienced experts from New Zealand and Australia to address areas such as degradation of landscape and amenity value, noise pollution and related health impacts, and effects on avifauna, particularly the endangered native falcon and black-fronted tern.”

Local experts in traffic safety and tourism are also offering to stand witness, and a property-valuation expert may be engaged.

“There can be little doubt that the wind farm, if built, will lead to a devaluation of our properties,” Mr Higginson said.

The society was having to move fast to secure funding so it could confirm its experts, he said.

A mail-drop and donation pledge form had been distributed throughout the district this week, and needed to be returned within seven days.