Peria rebels over pylon plan

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Top Energy is facing rebellion at Peria over its plans for a 110,000 volt power line that resident Chris Wilson said would cut through the heart of the valley, but had only come to local attention via word of mouth. Efforts to initiate a dialogue between the community and Top Energy had been blocked, and the route was a secret.

Local residents were shocked that the 25-metre power poles were planned to run along the highly visual ridge to the north of the community-focused Bush Fairy Dairy, some of them to be sited on well known and prominent pa sites, then within direct line of sight of Peria school, crossing the valley below Kauhanga Marae.

Many locals believed the historic, picturesque valley would be severely and unacceptably impacted by the proposal, and that an alternative route further away from the populated area needed to be found.

Health concerns had been dismissed with the "standard" company line 'no scientifically proven effect,' he added, but there was much evidence that a proportion of people were severely affected by high voltage, with conditions including leukaemia, particularly in the young, which was of concern to parents of children at Peria school and to those with houses close to the route.

"One farm that operates an organic beekeeping business would certainly be severely impacted, as bees lose their way around such high voltage, an indication of the reality of this kind of pollution," Mr Wilson said.

Peria representatives who went to meet Top Energy chief executive Russell Shaw were told that the company would not attend a public meeting to discuss the route, however, while senior staff claimed that a detailed analysis of dwellings and community activities had already been carried out.

"In fact an Auckland-based company used maps and a computer programme to ascertain the route, and did not even know of the existence of the Bush Fairy Dairy, which over the past decade has become a well-loved community asset and focus of the unique culture of Peria and the Inland Valleys," he added.

"The impact of the planned route on the ambience at the dairy would certainly detract from its business.

Even more disturbing was that Top Energy had not approached the iwi at Kauhanga Marae, Mr Wilson saying that showed complete disregard for the kaitiaki of ancestral pa sites and wahi tapu.

There were 60 pa sites between Kauhanga and Taipa, he said, many of them quite obvious to even the casual observer.

Top Energy's approach was to negotiate property by property, offering compensation to land owners in return for use of their land with a secrecy clause ensuring that they didn't talk with neighbours. When they asked what would happen if they refused, land owners were told that the Public Works Act meant they couldn't refuse.

"Legally, in order to have ownership of the line as a whole, Top Energy is actually establishing ownership rights over the area used for the poles. Once a land owner has signed the agreement there is no going back," he said.

"Owners of properties that don't require a pole site but would have cables passing over them, and those within metres of the route, are not even being contacted."

Peria residents were determined to oppose Top Energy if it persisted with its current plan, and were hoping the company would reconsider before the conflict escalated.

- Northland Age

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