Public submissions into a controversial application by family-owned Chinese bottled water company Nongfu Spring closed yesterday.
Nongfu, trading as Creswell Enterprises in New Zealand, applied to the Bay of Plenty Regional Council last August to expand the Otakiri Springs' water-bottling operation from 2 million litres of extracted water per year to what could potentially become 580 million litres annually.
Nongfu has a sale and purchase agreement with Otakiri Springs Ltd, which is between Edgecumbe and Kawerau, and Robertson Farms (landowners) which includes the transfer of the existing land use consent.
Under the Resource Management Act (RMA) the application relating to the expansion and operation of the Otakiri plant did not have to be publicly notified but council decided to let the community have a say.
Creswell Enterprises has asked that further consents lodged with Whakatane District Council relating to proposed land-use activities, including the installations of a filtration zone, be dealt with in a combined hearing with the regional matters.
The consent applications have been described as a contentious issue by Whakatane mayor Tony Bonne.
Bonne has publicly supported the proposed expansion, saying Nongfu had made a commitment to the Eastern Bay community "to the tune of 50 full-time jobs at a new, state-of-the-art facility".
He said the flow-on effect would also include employment in other industries including transport, maintenance and tourism.
"I have followed the debate on the water issue and it seems to me that much of the concern about Nongfu Spring's intended expansion is either an ideological opposition to overseas ownership of the water resource, or that the company does not pay a levy for the use of the resource.
"There's probably no argument that would satisfy the first concern, and the second raises an issue which, if a levy were introduced to all water uses, would have far-reaching negative consequences for our economy and our community."
But Save our Water Otakiri spokeswoman Maureen Fraser questioned whether water allocations should be made by the regional council based on computer-based aquifer modelling, which, she says, has led to over-allocation in Havelock North, Rakaia and Gisborne.
"Otakiri Springs' proposed new production line will fill 154,000 bottles per hour, 24 hours per day, 365 days of the year," Fraser said.
"This level of production equates to over 3.5 million bottles per day, or 1.35 billion bottles a year."
Fraser has led community meetings and a rally, inviting people to stand against the water-bottling proposal.
Creswell New Zealand director Michael Gleissner said the company welcomed the regional council's decision to publicly notify the consent applications.
He said he believed the process would help people better understand the complexities of the water allocation system and the benefits and value bottling brings to the wider community.
"As we've said before, we're prepared to pay a royalty on the commercial use of water should the Government decide to impose one, provided it's fair and equitable."
Following the submission period the regional council will decide on what steps to take next, although it is likely commissioners will be appointed to oversee a hearing.