Back on October 8, 2008, I made an Official Information Act request to the Regional Council regarding the existence of 3,000+ sites in Hawke’s Bay potentially with toxic waste contaminants on them.

Here’s my original BayBuzz article raising the public’s right to know about the potential health and safety risks posed by these sites.

And here’s the information I officially asked for:

1) Identification of those (possibly) contaminated sites that: a) are owned by local governments; b) are accessible to the public in the normal course of events, creating potential exposure hazards; or c) are possibly leaching contaminants into fresh or ground water.

2) Assuming that the Council is prudent enough to have “triaged” the list, at least in some preliminary fashion, and given some sort of “rating” to the sites they consider most problematic — and therefore rank first on the list to be examined — identification of the specific sites highest on the list, the number of sites in each category, and the “triage” approach used.

3) A copy of any workplan that indicates how and when HBRC will examine the sites on the list to establish their safety or danger.

The balance of sites can remain anonymous, for now, although by omitting them from this request I do not suggest that there is any legal basis for keeping them confidential.

The Regional Council refused this request and I appealed to the Office of the Ombudsmen.

Last week I received official notice that Ombudsman David McGee has advised the Regional Council that they should release the information referenced in Items 2 and 3 above. The Ombudsman has indicated that HBRC is not in a position to respond to Item 1, and has asked the Council to explain its difficulties with this part of the request.

Regional Councillors are meeting Friday August 7 to discuss their release of the information, and then with me on Monday the 10th to arrange the hand-over.

I plan to move this information into the public domain via the BayBuzz website (unless the Regional Council publishes the material online itself) as soon as possible.

The real issues are: What is the real extent of the risk to public health and safety, if any? What clean-ups or other  precautions might be required? And who will pay for them?

Stay tuned.

Tom Belford

P.S. The Dominion Post filed a similar request which was endorsed by the Ombudsman as well. Here is the DomPost story from the weekend. As the article indicates, the Ombudsman’s decision, accepted by Environment Minster Nick Smith, will likely result in nationwide release of similar information by councils. A terrific victory for the public’s right to know!

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3 Comments

  1. Well done on the contaminated sites issue Tom.

    It is potentially an issue that will snowball into something huge, with Nick Smith expecting regional councils throughout NZ to be forced to follow suit. Truly a victory for public disclosure.

    It is a pity that Radio NZ 's Morning Report attributed the Ombudsman's ruling to the Dominion Post.

    "Credit where credit is due." I say

  2. Bruno,

    The Dominion Post was the first to file an Official Information Act request and the first to complain to the Ombudsmen's Office when the council refused to comply.

    Bay Buzz, to its credit, followed suit.

    Marty Sharpe,

    Dompost reporter

  3. Point taken Marty.

    Congratulations to the Dom Post and Bay Buzz.

    "Victory has a thousand fathers."

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