While debate rages over KiwiRail nationwide, North Otago has a local argument over whether a disused line should be re-opened to allow trains to run at all.
A branch line used to run from the limeworks on the outskirts of Weston to Oamaru. It was closed in 1997 and the lines were lifted a couple of years later but its owner, then NZ Railways, retained ownership in case it was needed for a cement plant.
However, when the Waitaki district plan was reviewed in 1993 the designation wasn’t properly recorded. OnTrack now needs it redesignated because it’s the best means of transport for Holcim NZ if its plans for a new cement plant in the Waiareka Valley come to fruition.
The new plant would be a $400m investment for Holcim but its plans have not been greeted with universal enthusiasm and the Waiareka Valley Preservation Society was set up to oppose the proposal.
Resource consent was granted in February but both Holcim and the WVPS have lodged appeals – the former over some of the conditions, that latter over the approval.
OnTrack’s application to redesignate the line came in the middle of all this and the WVPS submitted against it. Independent commissioner Allan Cubitt recommended that approval be given and because OnTrack is a requiring authority under the Resource Management Act it makes the final decision. Not surprisingly it accepted the commissioner’s recommendation but now the WVPS, which submitted against the application, is appealing that consent too. Their appeal will be considered with the others on Holcim’s proposal in the Environment Court.
We farm next to the site for Holcim’s plant and another of our properties neighbours the company’s sand pit, which will be used if the cement works go ahead.
I submitted in support of Holcim’s proposal at the resource consent hearings. I’ll cover the details in a future blog, but the short argument is that there would be substantial economic and social benefits for the district if the cement works go ahead; and RMA conditions will safeguard the environment.
As for the railway line, I crossed it several times a week when it was open before and can’t recall any problems then. People who have built beside the rail corridor since the track closed will have concerns; but once they get used to them they’ll hardly notice a few trains a day – and they will not run at night.
I think the WVPS objections have more to do with the society’s opposition to Holcim than the reopening of the railway line. And that’s one of the frustrations with the RMA – it allows people objecting to one thing to object to another in the hope of stopping the first.