4 Apr 2011

Hearing begins into Otago port expansion plan

7:53 pm on 4 April 2011

A resource consents hearing for multimillion-dollar expansion plans for the major port in Otago has started in Dunedin.

Of the 190 submissions, more than 100 are opposed to the proposal that would see the channel deepened to make way for larger vessels.

Resource consents are being sought for the entire Next Generation project which would see the channel dredged to a maximum depth of 15 metres over the next 20 years.

Port Otago chief executive Geoff Plunket says it is difficult to estimate the overall cost, but phase one would cost up to $20 million.

Mr Plunkett says there has not been any firm commitment from shipping companies that Port Chalmers will be a port of choice for larger vessels in future, but the forecast is positive.

The Otago Regional Council owns the port, so an independent panel of three people - two appointed by the council and one by the Ministry of Conservation - is conducting the hearing.

The council's resource management director, Selva Selvarajah, believes port expansion would provide an economic opportunity for the whole region and most objections relate to commercial activities, environmental impact and fishing.

Only a handful of people opposed to the expansion were at the hearing on Monday, with their turn to speak scheduled for next week.

One of those groups is the Carey's Bay Association. President Ian Stephenson says the proposed wharf extension would locate the ship unloading and loading process right in the heart of Carey's Bay and consultation has not been to a good level.

However, Geoff Plunket says Port Otago has done the best it could to consult with the community and meet with some key stakeholders groups.

Over the next few weeks, the independent panel will hear from experts and industry representatives including dairy cooperative Fonterra and the Maersk shipping company.

A decision will be made two weeks after the hearing's completion and can be appealed against in the Environment Court.