This week I travelled to a small community west of Huntly, driving over the Tainui Bridge and through the current coal mining area until I reached the windy hill country and two small villages – Glen Afton and Pukemiro.
These communities back onto a former open cast coal pit, the owner of which now wants to turn it into a 22 hectare landfill. He wants to truck rubbish from all over the country to this quiet place, where people have lived through the destruction of the mining operations and more recently Solid Energy’s job cuts.
On the face of it, a former open cast coal might sound like an alright place for municipal waste. But as I learned from the locals (who are very passionate and very informed), there are myriad problems associated with living nearby. Firstly there’s the likelihood of smell and leachate from the rubbish. The old coal mine is honeycombed with holes underneath it so it will be nigh impossible to control the untreated leachate if there is a hole in the landfill liner. The consent for the landfill is for 35 years but at the hearing the liner was given a 15 year life span.
The treated leachate will drain into a stream that flows into Lake Waahi in Huntly, then into the Waikato river. The odour will be controlled to theoretically acceptable limits, but acceptable to whom? The owner and developer of the project has a history of consent breaches, including a $40,000 for illegal tyre dumping. He also burned tyres for over a fortnight – DOC had to manage the incident as there is a strip of conservation land less than 1km away and the fumes drove some residents from their homes.
Meanwhile the possible effects of combining toxic coal waste with organic matter and heavy metals from landfill rubbish are yet to be addressed.
The community group fighting the landfill is opposing the consent and attending mediation. The cost of appeal is intimidating but it remains an option because they want to heal the land from coal mining rather than deal with the effects of a new environmental hazard.
I don’t think these little communities deserve having other communities’ waste dumped next to them. If we had to seriously reduce waste we would, but because we don’t, Pukemiro is battling on. I am with them.