‘Huge relief to everybody’

All gone... Taking part yesterday in a walk-through of the former Mataura Paper Mill where ouvea premix had been stored are (from left) New Zealand Aluminium Smelters chief executive Stewart Hamilton, Mataura Community Board chairman Alan Taylor, Gore Mayor Tracy Hicks, and Sort Out The Dross spokeswoman Laurel Turnbull. PHOTO: SANDY EGGLESTON

It is sorted – the ouvea premix has left the building.

Ten thousand tonnes of the premix, a by-product from aluminium dross processing at the New Zealand Aluminium Smelters’ (NZAS) Tiwai Point smelter, had been stored in the former Mataura Paper Mill since 2014.

Last week the remaining bags were removed.

Taha Asia Pacific began storing the premix without a resource consent and then applied to the Gore District Council for a consent in 2015 which was granted retrospectively.

The company, which had planned to convert the premix to fertiliser, was liquidated in 2016.

NZAS chief executive Stewart Hamilton hosted a walk-through of the mill yesterday with guests including Gore Mayor Tracy Hicks, Mataura Community Board chairman Alan Taylor and Sort Out The Dross spokeswoman Laurel Turnbull.

Many people in Mataura would be relieved the premix was gone, Mrs Turnbull said.

“People were scared, especially people that haven’t lived here as long as I have.

“Every time it started to rain they thought the river was going to flood and that they were going to have to be moved out.

“Some of them had bags packed all the time in case they had to leave home so it will be a huge relief to everybody,” Mrs Turnbull said.

She had been lobbying for the removal of the premix for the past seven years.

“I felt like I was a lone voice at times.

“It’s just a sense of elation and relief, really.”

Gore Mayor Tracy Hicks said it had been six months since all parties involved in the issue agreed to speed up removing the class six hazardous substance, following legal action brought by the Environmental Defence Society.

It was welcome news the dross had been removed by the end of last week, Mr Hicks said.

“The presence of this substance has caused all sorts of anxiety and consternation for residents.

“They can now have peace of mind, and not before time.”

He was pleased Rio Tinto, the majority owner of Tiwai, had accepted financial responsibility and expedited removal of the substance from storage sites.

Gore District Council chief executive Stephen Parry said getting agreement around the removal of the substance had been a very complex problem.

It had taken 18 months of negotiations to secure a deal in July 2019 between NZAS, the government, Southland’s local authorities and the landlords of storage sites in the province.

“All parties felt they were victims and had been let down by Taha.

“It had been very taxing trying to get people to step up.”

He was grateful for the efforts of Australian-based company Inalco, which would be taking the premix for processing.

Mr Hamilton said he was pleased for the Mataura community.

“[People are] finally in a position where they no longer have to worry about the potential environmental impact of the material,” he said.

As well as the 10,000 tonnes at Mataura, there were about 12,000 tonnes of ouvea in storage around Invercargill.