Mushroom farm closure stinks of RMA abuse
The head of Meadow Mushrooms says a forced closure of the company’s Waikato sites is the result of abuse of the Resource Management Act’s original intent.
The company was fined $32,000 in the Environment Court for repeatedly producing an objectionable odour. Much of the complaining came from four farmers, two of whom have moved in since the site was upgraded in 1995, and a competing mushroom grower, Meadow Mushrooms chief executive Roger Young says.
The company’s composting site sits 1km outside Morrinsville and its closure means the actual mushroom growing site in the town also has to shut down also as there is no other way to source compost in the region, costing the region 160 jobs and hurting supporting industry.
The company’s choice of spending either $2 milliion upgrading the current site, on top of the $2.3 million spent since 1995, plus huge legal fees and the option of spending several million more moving the site somewhere else is too much of a gamble, especially since consent wouldn’t be guaranteed in either case, he says.
When the Meadow Mushrooms purchased NZ Mushrooms to expand its operations out of Canterbury, the site was a simple concrete pad, completely open-aired and was given resource consent.
After a series of upgrades Mr Young says the company applied to Matamata/Piako district council for renewal, as well as expand its operations, and was granted consent for five years. This is where the problems began.
Mr Young says the weaknesses in the RMA have left loopholes for competitors and residents on a vendetta to shut the company’s operations down.
This included arsenic complaints to the Food Safety Authority, noise complaints about extractor fan hum, complaints about the glare of lights, allegations of waterway poisoning and complaints about vibrations from the site “causing houses to crack 650 metres away.”
All of these allegations were refuted by experts, Mr Young says, so the final approach came down to the much more emotionally charged, and infinitely more subjective issue of stench.
To help with the process, the company flew in an odour control expert from the University of Warwick, Professor Ralph Noble, and David Bayer from the University of Pennsylvania. Both said the site was world class.
“We set up the most intensive odour monitoring around the site New Zealand has ever seen,” he says.
Mr Young believes the RMA gives dairy farmers in the region a free ride, and that his company is fully sustainable in ways that dairy isn’t, as well as producing jobs and GDP for the Morrinsville area.
The company’s compost is made from waste and other materials that would otherwise be thrown out, and the compost itself gets recycled and sold on to farmers, he says.
But much like Foodstuffs’ problems opening its Pak’n Save in Wairau Park Auckland, the competition is able to make highly subjective claims – such as the effect on traffic flows in the area – to stop, or delay industry.
“We don’t want the RMA repealed, its intents and purposes are laudable. It protects New Zealand’s land from being raped and pillaged by unscrupulous private enterprise. But when it’s hijacked by the competition and used for cynical purposes with the help of consultants and specialist lawyers – you have to say we need to look at it again.”