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Environmental Defence Society secures removal of dangerous ouvea premix from Mataura

02 February 2021

Legal proceedings initiated by EDS have resulted in a Court-facilitated agreement between the various parties that means the ouvea premix stored at the old Mataura Paper Mill is to be removed back to the Tiwai Aluminium Smelter site.

“We brought proceedings in the Environment Court last year because we considered that New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Ltd (NZAS) was responsible for the continued safe handling of the premix, which posed significant health and environmental risks if it got wet. The current storage facility is prone to flooding,” said EDS CEO Gary Taylor.

“After 12 Judicial Settlement Conferences, an agreement has been reached involving the NZAS, the Crown and the local councils to remove all of the stored material back to the Tiwai site.

“This was a complex negotiation that was time consuming and challenging. While it’s our position that a small environmental group like EDS should not have been required to take on the biggest mining company in the world to see it face up to its environmental responsibilities, we are pleased with the outcome.

“In addition to actively engaging in the mediation process, EDS made direct contact with the new Chief Executive and the Chairman of Rio Tinto, the main shareholder of NZAS, and engaged also with the CEO of Rio Tinto Aluminium, to get their direct engagement to help resolve the matter. They were helpful.

“We acknowledge that as negotiations proceeded there was a building up of trust and goodwill between the parties and we thank NZAS and Rio Tinto for helping to get to a solution.

“The ouvea premix removal is being expedited and is expected to be completely removed by the end of April, weather and truck availability permitting.

“This will remove the potential for the Mataura community to be affected by ammonia gas which is produced when the material gets wet. We acknowledge that this has been a deep concern for the community since the last major flood in February 2020.

“We acknowledge the active and helpful assistance of Crown Law, the Ministry for the Environment and the Minister for the Environment in getting this across the line.

“Finally, thanks are also due in no small measure to Alternate Environment Judge Laurie Newhook who moderated the Judicial Settlement Conferences with calm and purposeful authority,” Mr Taylor concluded.

Barrister Rob Enright and in-house counsel Cordelia Woodhouse acted for EDS while Shay Schlaepfer conducted extensive research for the case.