Thousands of plastic bottles have been dumped on the doorstep of Whakatane District Council today as nearby a hearing was held on the proposed expansion of a water bottling plant at Otakiri.

In June last year, Creswell NZ Limited was successful in its application to take more groundwater from the Awaiti Canal groundwater catchment for water bottling.

The consent allowed them to take 5000cu m per day up from 1358cu m per day.

But the consent was appealed by Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa on the grounds that the increased water take would negatively affect te mauri o te wai (the life of the water) and Ngāti Awa's ability to be kaitiaki (guardian) of the water.

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Today a five-day Environment Court hearing on the appeal began.

This week's hearing also sees Sustainable Otakiri Incorporated question Whakatane District Council's processes applied in its decision to change the conditions of the existing bottling consent.

They believe the proposed expansion should have required a new land use consent.

Creswell, Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa, Bay of Plenty Regional Council, Whakatane District Council and Sustainable Otakiri all have legal representation. Environment Court Judge David Kirkpatrick is supported by Deputy Environment Commissioner David Kernohan and Commissioner Ian Buchanan.

In his opening statement, Creswell solicitor Dave Randall said for the past 25 years, high-quality artesian water from the Otakiri aquifer had been bottled at the Otakiri Springs Water Bottling plant.

"The plant's operations need to be expanded to ensure its ongoing viability, and Creswell – a prospective purchaser of the business, subject to obtaining resource consents – seeks to do so by adding a further plant building, increasing the water take [well within the allocation provided by the relevant plan], and growing production," Randall said.

David Kirkpatrick and Commissioner Ian Buchanan preside over the hearing. Photo / Katee Shanks
David Kirkpatrick and Commissioner Ian Buchanan preside over the hearing. Photo / Katee Shanks

Randall told the court about the 52 extra full-time employees that would be required at the plant and the flow-on effects that were likely to create a further 145 full-time jobs across the region, with a potential 237 full-time positions attributable to the expansion.

"In terms of potentially adverse environmental effects, all parties now agree the proposed water take is sustainable and will not affect the aquifer."

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Acknowledging the mana of Ngāti Awa and its hapū, Randall said Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa's frustrations with central and local Government were understandable.

Those frustrations include a lack of recognition of Māori interest in water in the regional planning framework, a lack of direction specific to water bottling and a failure to set allocations of water that respect the views of iwi and hapū with values, interest and right to water.

"The residual concerns relate to effects on the metaphysical qualities of the aquifer, including effects on the mauri and mana of the wai, and on their ability to exercise kaitiakitanga."

Randall called a number of witnesses including Creswell's Michael Gleissner and local kaumatua Hemana Eruera who spoke on cultural and tikanga effects.

As witnesses spoke, a group from Tauranga rolled into Whakatāne with 2400 plastic water bottles and deposited them outside the Whakatane District Council.

A group spokesman said the bottles represented how many plastic bottles would be manufactured at the expanded site every minute.

"We have done this to give you a visual idea of the number of plastic bottles that will be made. Imagine this multiplied by an hour, and a day, a week and a year. It would cover all of Whakatāne."

Creswell disputes the number of bottles that will be manufactured.

On Wednesday the hearing will move to Mataatua Marae where the majority of iwi and hapū supporters and detractors of the expansion have expressed a desire to speak.

Judge Kirkpatrick indicated he and the Commissioners expected to carry out a site visit at the existing water-bottling plant sometime during the week.

The hearing continues tomorrow.