Objections to increased volumes of construction traffic using narrow, winding Palmerston North roads to access the Turitea Wind Farm are being sent directly to the Environment Court.
Wind farm owners Mercury want a variation to resource consent conditions to enable 300 trucks a day to use Kahuterawa Rd and Greens Rd to access the southern section of the wind farm.
Faced with three-quarters of the 40 submitters opposing having more trucks on the roads, Mercury asked if it could skip the process of a city council hearing.
Its environmental resources manager Mark Henry said there was a high likelihood any local decision would be appealed, and end up in the Environment Court anyway.
“Direct referral will reduce duplication and be more efficient in terms of time and costs for all parties,” he said.
Henry said it was important to have a decision for the nationally significant project as soon as possible as construction of the southern section was already under way.
The city council, in a decision signed by planning services manager Simon Mori, has agreed to fast-track the issue to the Environment Court.
“The contentious nature of the application and opposition expressed through submissions makes if more likely that a council level decision would be appealed,” Mori said.
The original resource consent applications had also been “called in” because of the project’s national significance, and were granted by a Board of Inquiry in 2011.
The $456 million, 66-turbine wind farm is half-built, with the northern 33 turbines operating. When complete, it will generate enough energy to power 120,000 households, or 375,000 electric vehicles.
Now the second or southern section of 27 turbines was being built, Mercury wanted to use the narrow country roads as the primary access to the site, rather than the entrance off the Pahīatua Track as earlier planned.
In order to get to the southern section from that point, a new section of road above the Turitea Reserve needed to be built, and was not yet finished.
Mori said the referral to the Environment Court would be more efficient and streamlined process, and the 18 submitters who wanted to be heard would be given a fair and full opportunity to participate.
The court hearing, and any other types of conferencing or mediation it ordered, would be held in Palmerston North.
The opposing submitters, who fear the extra truck movements would create dangers for residential and recreation road users, are not so convinced the referral will serve their interests best.
Greens Rd resident Kaydee Zabelin said the referral was disappointing.
She expected the preparation of the council’s case, which currently opposes the variation without significant changes, would cost more.
Zabelin was also disappointed with Mercury’s lack of regard for the community, for example, through cancelling community liaison group meetings since November, blaming Covid-19 restrictions.
She said some affected residents could not oppose the request for a variation because they had private agreements with Mercury.
“Others now are losing faith in the council’s due process to prioritise public safety over private commercial interests.
“Our safety concerns remain as Mercury are still using heavy traffic on the road while this is all sorted out.”
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