The West Coast Regional Council has called in the Environmental Protection Authority following its ongoing investigation of “potential contaminant discharges” from the Taylorville Resource Park (TRP).

The council announced today it has transferred its investigation to the EPA to ensure “impartiality and comprehensive expertise” around the Coal Creek private landfill, 5km east of Greymouth.

Council relayed the news to about 20 affected neighbours in a meeting last night.

Chief executive Darryl Lew said the operator had already been informed, and EPA would take over the comprehensive work already done by the council from Monday.

“This ensures seamless continuity and maximises efficiency in uncovering the facts and addressing any potential environmental concerns,” Lew said.

Up to six EPA investigators would be based at the regional council but operate independently.

Potential air and water quality concerns due to the landfill have been ongoing since early 2023.

Lew said the time had come to step back “to guarantee an independent and thorough investigation”.

“This specific case calls for an agency with broader jurisdiction and resources.

“By involving the EPA, we’re demonstrating our commitment to transparency and eliminating any potential perception of bias,” Lew said.

Asked what perception had been raised, Lew told LDR some of it was to do with the council’s own role in the original consent application and drafting the site’s consent.

This dated back to 2021.

In the investigation to date “a view expressed” was that council’s role “may not have been as comprehensive or empowering as it should have been” given the effects of the site, Lew said.

“So to ensure full independence, and that we are not being seen as protecting council in any way, that’s why the EPA has been called in.”

Lew said the high level of community concern also warranted the move.

“The critical reason for inviting the EPA in is the issues identified by our investigation — there’s definitely RMA matters that are in our jurisdiction but there are other matters completely outside our jurisdiction.”

An example was matters with the site “potentially” covered by the Biosecurity Act. The EPA had the power to reach across the relevant Government departments for its investigation.

Further, issues with the consents and compliance issues for the site were “very complex” and could be handled better by the EPA, Lew said.

“We’ve delegated the investigation to them. They have full jurisdictional powers of their own under the Resource Management Act.”

LDR approached Taylorville Resource Park for comment this morning.

Lew said operation of the landfill could continue in the meantime — monitoring of the site by the council continued.

“They do have a consent and the expectation is that company still complies with those conditions. We have no power to stop a consent that has been lawfully issued.

“I do expect more environmental monitoring to occur, either by (TRP) agreeing to do that or by our powers to get in and do it ourselves.”

Announcement on a separate formal review of the consents was expected soon.

Lew, only at council since June, said that in “inheriting this issue” he had directly assumed management of the matter.

The council needed to demonstrate “it regains the trust and confidence of the wider Greymouth community but most specifically of the neighbours of the site, that we’re holding the company (TRP) accountable for their performance in the management of the site.

“I do think the company needs also to win the trust and confidence back from its neighbours and the Greymouth community relating to the site,” Lew said.

Greymouth Mayor Tania Gibson said calling EPA in was a positive move.

“The residents and us are all still very frustrated, but it is good to see things are still ticking along in [the regional council] taking action.”

The issue had dragged on however.

“We’re happy it is proceeding — we would like it to go faster — but we know the processes take their time … it’s quite a big step.”

Gibson said meantime it would be good if TRP showed faith by initiating dialogue with its affected neighbours.

“They know how the residents feel … it would be good for them to front the community as such.”

By Brendon McMahon, Local democracy reporter

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.