10 Aug 2010

Federated Farmers hold off signing river accord

6:58 am on 10 August 2010

Federated Farmers says it intends to sign an accord to clean up the Manawatu River but has some concerns over the wording.

After months of meetings, 27 parties including district and regional councils, iwi and dairy company Fonterra on Monday signed the accord to work towards creating a healthier river and doing something about the level of waste poured into it.

Federated Farmers disagrees with the wording in the accord - including that the river is in a poor state, dirty, lacking life and culturally compromising.

It says the document is too emotionally charged for it to sign and wants the status of the river changed to improved.

The president of Federated Farmers' Tararua branch, John Barrow, says farmers want a workable document that can achieve more than just a few headlines.

"We would have been first in the queue to sign - we are very much in favour of the initiative.

"We don't feel the accord should have included amongst the issues the description of the river as ... dirty, lacking life and culturally compromised. From our point of view, that's an emotionally-charged statement."

The president of Federated Farmers' Manawatu-Rangitikei branch, Gordon McKellar, says farmers also wanted the regional council to hold off until it had finalised its Regional One plan in a month.

Federated Farmers put out a statement on Monday, saying its members support the plans but have not had enough time to consider the document properly.

Decision disappointing, says council

The Manawatu-Whanganui Regional Council says Federated Farmers' decision not to sign the accord is disappointing as farmers have been involved in discussions for months.

Regional council chairman Garrick Murfitt says not signing the accord on Monday suggests that farmers do not want to take responsibility over the river.

He says there's a general consensus that the river is in an unacceptable state and something needs to be done now.

The council says farmers are being pedantic about a few words and does not agree with the federation that the wording in the accord is emotive.

In 2009, the Cawthron Institute released a report showing the health of the Manawatu River was very poor and it was one of the six worst polluted rivers in New Zealand.

The accord is likely to be implemented next year.

Cleanup 'will cost millions'

Palmerston North mayor Jono Naylor says the accord is likely to be a turning point in the Manawatu River's history.

But he says it's taken hundreds of years to run the river down, and it will take many years and millions of dollars to restore it.

The secretary of the Manawatu Estuary Trust, Christina Paton, disagrees about the time needed, saying the clean up could be done quickly and the cost should not be used as an excuse for leaving the river unsafe.