From our Chair: Legacy issues

One of the most difficult tasks we face at Environment Canterbury is determining how best to deal with a range of historic ‘legacy issues’ around the region.

Jenny Hughey, Chair, Environment Canterbury

*Jenny Hughey, Chair, Environment Canterbury

These are the problems that Cantabrians and Councils have so far been unable to sort out. Caused by actions taken some time ago they are still ticking away in the background and, unfortunately, are unlikely to go away any time soon.

Sites posing environmental, health risks

By legacy issues, we mostly mean sites that pose an environmental and/or safety and health risk to others, especially hazardous or contaminated sites such as old community landfills, tyre piles, and toxic substance dumps.

The soils and water around these sites may be highly contaminated by poisonous substances that have been leaching from old paint tins, engine batteries, animal carcasses and the like over many decades.

There are also sites where dangerous chemicals were once used in the forestry and horticulture industries, or where old asbestos has been dumped, at which the ground remains poisoned and poses a potential health risk.

Identifying legacy issue sites in Canterbury

We have good records of where most of these legacy issues and sites are across the region. Our website includes a listed land use register and a series of technical reports on contamination – information which has been collected and verified for many years.

But, given the size of our region, there are always going to be some nasty surprises as new legacy-issue sites are revealed while we are busy resolving others.

The environmental damage to West Coast beaches caused by the scouring out of an old community landfill near the Fox Glacier village raised national awareness of the risks of old dumps and provided a timely reminder that, just because they have been buried, it doesn’t mean they’ve disappeared

Almost every community in Canterbury will have had its own local dump at some time or other. We have to accept problems from these are likely to arise in the years to come.

Addressing removal of Amberley tyre stockpile 

Amberley tyre stockpile

One example of where we have been able to work closely with the community over a legacy issue has been the Amberley tyre mountain.

This stockpile has been a blot on the landscape for locals since it started growing in early 2016. A neighbour subsequently set fire to the pile and has been sentenced by the court for that.

We are working closely with the landowner to get the tyres moved and are still pursuing those responsible for the stockpile to ensure they take them away at their own cost.

In August, those who failed to carry out our enforcement order to remove the tyres were found guilty, but have not yet been sentenced.

Resolving the issues, and costs

Who should pay to resolve these legacy issues is always the big question. Often there is nobody still associated with them that we can go to for the costs. Running things through the courts is costly, as is clearing up the mess itself.

We are working hard on resolving all our known issues, but it will be a long time before we can say, with any great confidence, “case closed”.

*Cr Jenny Hughey is the Chair of Environment Canterbury. Find out more about our Councillors.