July 23, 2008

Burnoffs Upsetting Tasman Residents

By KIDSON, Sally

Burnoffs in the Tasman district are getting up the public's noses, with a residents' group calling for the Tasman District Council to look at the rules allowing companies to burn off land in preparation for subdivision.

But council staff say there is little they can do about the fires because no rules are being broken.

Complaints about outdoor burning made up the highest number of grumbles to the council in the past three months.

Sixty-two of the 261 complaints received from April to June were about smoke. Of these, 44 were about outdoor burning in the Motueka area.

Council compliance officer Carl Cheesman said in a report that complaints had come from as far away as Stoke and Nelson, and many people wanted to register their opposition to the practice of outdoor burning and its effects.

Mr Cheesman said most of the fires were conducted in accordance with rules allowing outdoor burning, so there was little that compliance officers could do.

He said complaints were likely to continue because of rising public opposition to the activity.

Burnoffs are a permitted activity as a land management tool in the district, but require a fire permit from the Waimea Rural Fire Authority. Fires in some areas on the Waimea and Motueka plains are not permitted between June and August, unless they have a resource consent.

Tasman Area Community Association secretary Tony Pearson said residents in the Tasman village area had noticed that the smoke problem from burnoffs was worse this year, and the matter had been raised at association meetings.

In previous years, it had been mainly orchardists holding burnoffs, he said. This year, forestry companies like Carter Holt Harvey were burning off land they intended to subdivide.

Mr Pearson said this meant residents had faced weeks and weeks of burnoffs, and he was worried that more were coming, as large areas of Weka Rd and Old Coach Rd had been cleared.

He was concerned that wet, green and dirty wood was sometimes burnt, which made the smoke problem worse.

Mr Pearson said the association did not have a problem with orchardists and other smaller-scale landowners carrying out burnoffs, but thought that the rules allowing large landowners like Carter Holt Harvey to burn off for weeks on end needed to be reviewed.

"As a community, we are saying this is a different phenomenon and council need to consider whether they need different rules to cover this."

He believed that there were other ways to clean up land, and had heard that in other areas of New Zealand, huge mulchers were used.

Coastal Highway resident David Short agreed that the rules needed to be looked at. He was concerned about the fires because of the pollution they caused.

Council consents coordinator Michael Durant said the council had issued only four resource consents for burnoffs this year, two of which were for Carter Holt Harvey.

CHH would not comment on the matter.

Environment and planning committee chairman Cr Michael Higgins said the council discussed the issue of burnoffs on Thursday, but decided not to take any further action.

Cr Higgins said the council felt that the issue would not be as bad in the future because a lot of forestry land had been cleared in order to meet the carbon tax penalty deadline of December 2007.

He said council staff would work with landowners to ensure that they carried out burnoffs correctly.

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