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by Chris Tobin

Future expansion plans at the Oceania Dairy Ltd plant near Glenavy could face big problems if resource consent to build a 7.5km pipeline to discharge wastewater into the Pacific Ocean is not approved.

Of the 126 submissions received by Environment Canterbury (ECan), 117 opposed the pipeline, six were in support of it and three were neutral.

The plant’s current wastewater disposal system has shown signs of being unsustainable.

In its application for a 35-year discharge resource consent Chinese Government-owned Oceania, a subsidiary of Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group (Yili), said expansion plans would result in greater volumes of wastewater – up to 10,000 cu m per day – than was allowed under its present consents for irrigation disposal.

Oceania supply and environment manager Shane Lodge said the current wastewater disposal system was designed for stages 1 and 2 of the development; expansion would require bigger and/or additional disposal systems.

“There are limited land options available in the local area to dispose of water solely on to land and we are concerned at oversaturating the land during periods of sustained wet weather.”

He said the proposed pipeline would only be used when irrigation to land was not advisable due to wet weather.

The factory currently discharged “clean” wastewater and “factory” wastewater which contained contaminants on to nearby land.

“There is a limited availability of clean-water to ‘flush’ the irrigation lines,” Oceania said in its resource consent application.

“ODL has struggled to meet its wastewater discharge consent conditions.”

The company said contaminants in the wastewater discharged into the Pacific Ocean could include non-human pathogenic micro-organisms, nutrients, suspended solids, diluted cleaning products and dissolved salts.

Asked why ECan gave consent allowing discharge to land when it seemed probable this would be unsustainable and the plant itself would expand placing further pressures on the environment, ECan consents planning manager Virginia Loughnan said whether a business expanded was its decision.

“Our remit is to assess the effects on the environment of any proposal against our rules and regulations.”

She said the original consents for the site went through a notified consent process “and the effects were thoroughly considered and debated”.

Oceania’s consultants Babbage Consultants Ltd said in their proposal that, based on available data, the species which most used the waters near the proposed pipeline outlet were Hector’s dolphins followed by New Zealand fur seals.

Hector’s dolphins were considered as “nationally vulnerable” under the New Zealand Threat Classification System.

The Hector’s dolphin’s home range extended from Patiti Point south of Timaru to Moeraki Point.

Other species that could be present occasionally were the southern right whale, orca, common dolphin, dusky dolphin and leopard seal.

Oceania employed more than 300 staff at the plant, of whom about 40% were from Timaru, 30% from Waimate and the remainder from Oamaru.

This year staff numbers were expected to exceed 370 once work on a new laboratory was completed, concluding stage 2 of the site development. Over six years a total of $650million had been spent establishing and developing the plant to produce milk powder, infant formula and UHT production lines.

An ECan spokesperson said a hearing into Oceania’s resource consent application was due to be completed by late April, although this could be subject to change.

“Neither the hearing start date nor the exact make-up of the hearing panel has yet been finalised,” she said.

Last year Oceania received an award for investment between China and New Zealand at the New Zealand China Trade Association China Business Awards.