Mataura premix move could take a year
The February storm that resulted in the Pyramid Bridge collapsing near Gore could have had far more dire consequences.
Gore District Council chief executive Steve Parry said Environment Southland modelling for the storm showed the Mataura River could have breached its banks at Mataura, which could have flooded the paper mill building where about 10,000 tonnes of ouvea premix is being stored.
The premix can produce the highly corrosive ammonia gas if it gets wet, and the former paper mill building is next to the river.
‘‘There were almost involuntary bowel movements when we knew that. We could have been very close to an environmental disaster.’’
The premix was originally owned by Taha Asia Pacific, which went into liquidation in 2016.
Taha had a contract with the Tiwai aluminium smelter to take the smelter’s dross, extract the aluminium for reuse in the smelter, and process the remainder into ouvea premix, which could be processed into fertiliser.
However, when Taha went into liquidation the ouvea premix remained stored in sheds around Southland. Part of Taha’s resource consent had included building a flood protection wall to protect the premix from a flood of the Mataura River or the Waikana Stream.
‘‘Taha obviously didn’t do that because they went into receivership but the landlord, Greg Paterson, has. The modelling was early, but we’re a sitting duck. We’ve got 10,000 tonnes in there so we have to focus on pollution really.
‘‘Southland has been very lucky with the weather. All the weather bombs have been in the North Island but our time will come and we have to hope that is not in the next 12 to 18 months.’’
The council is continuing to monitor the site for any ammonia gas, he said.
The storm modelling galvanised the need to remove the premix, which was being stored in the building and at sites at Awarua and Invercargill when , Taha went into liquidation.
A funding package that was broadly agreed to between NZ Aluminium Smelters, the Crown, southern local authorities and the landlords of sites where the premix is stored was announced in March.
‘‘Part of that deal is that the premix would be removed from Mataura first because it has the highest risk.’’
NZAS and the Government combined would cover 75 per cent of costs, with southern councils and landlords paying the remainder.
Parry said he hoped work to start moving the premix would start in the next few months but it could take a year to remove it all from the paper mill building.
That is because the buyer, which he declined to name or say where it was from, was unable to deal with all of the premix at once.
‘‘It’s the buyers’ prerogative, but it is progress, and we are dealing with an experienced operator. We’ve got a purchaser who has to organise all of the logistics to move it. Beggars can’t be choosers and we have to work with them to get the best outcome.
‘‘It’s not like this is a Trade Me sale where you can just say ‘‘pop around and pick it up Trev’’; it’s far more complex than that because you’re working with a hazardous material and a very, very small market of buyers.’’
Consent would need to be obtained to remove it and a risk management plan would need to be drawn up before it was moved.
The council was finalising the details of how much funding it would be contributing to moving the premix, he said.
Liquidators formally disclaimed the premix in December after spending about 18 months trying to find a purchaser for it.
Last week, Environment Southland voted to contribute $250,000 as part of a regional funding package of $650,000 to enable the removal.
Chairman Nicol Horrell said while ES has no statutory obligations in regard to the storage of the materials, councillors recognised they had an important role in the solution.
‘‘This is an issue the community feels strongly about, there is a lot of concern and we are prepared to play our part in the resolution.’’
The $250,000 reserves. will be funded from