Authorities will decide next week whether the removal of 10,000 tonnes of hazardous waste from Mataura’s disused paper mill can continue under Level 3 restrictions.
The ouvea premix – a by-product of production at New Zealand Aluminium Smelters’ Tiwai Point facility – was dumped at the mill without resource consent in 2015 by Taha Asia Pacific.
Taha went into liquidation the following year and the waste sat there until March 2018, when government and local councils agreed to a $4 million deal with New Zealand Aluminium Smelters to remove and dispose of the waste over six years.
When mixed with water the product can create a toxic ammonia gas cloud. It came under threat in February this year when the Mataura River flooded, inundating the town and threatening the paper mill.
The Government has been trying to fast-track its removal since, but all removal work ceased under the level 4 lockdown.
A Ministry for the Environment spokesperson said a decision on whether removal could resume at level 3 was expected early next week.
“Under the criteria relating to alert level 4, resulting from Covid-19, the removal process was deemed not an essential service and therefore placed on hold,” the spokesperson said.
“Following yesterday’s announcement that the alert level is to reduce to level 3 at 11.59pm next Monday, 27 April, the Ministry for the Environment and relevant agencies, including local councils, will meet to discuss the situation.
“A decision on whether a resumption of the removal process can begin safely under level three restrictions is expected early next week.”