PETER OWENS reviews the trials and tribulations of a small gold dredging operation on the Clutha River in Otago.
The “mini-storm in a tea cup” surrounding Cold Gold Clutha’s operations at Millers Flat in Central Otago has been resolved, but gave a hectic start for the company’s attempt to bring back dredging to an old, river bed prospecting site.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the Clutha River was dredged by literally hundreds of dredges. These operations slowly withdrew, leaving the West Coast of the South Island as the only location for gold dredging.
That was until the Cold Gold Clutha Company started dredging a 65-metre stretch of the Clutha River between Roxburgh and the mouth of the Tuapeka River. It obtained a resource consent from the Otago Regional Council in 2008 to dredge the river between those two points for 13 hours, seven days a week (with restrictions at Christmas and Easter).
Its 24-metre long dredge was built in Nelson over 18 months, and was designed to suck up the gold left behind from the old dredging days with a 300mm-wide suction pump capable of drawing up 30 cubic metres per hour.
This dredge was launched in the Clutha River in February 2012 with a crew of six, but struck several problems after becoming operational. It was winched ashore near Ettrick in October 2012 for repairs and modifications, and not re-launched until August 2013.
Then more trouble came along when a local couple, Ernie and Irene Brown of Millers Flat near the Clutha River, objected to the noise of the dredge and inquired of the Central Otago District Council as to the consented level.
On checking the district plan and the terms of the existing consent, the council found that although there was no excessive noise, Cold Gold Clutha Company did not have a land use consent for some of the company’s operations and the construction of a temporary slipway (required for statutory inspection by Maritime NZ). Although a consent for this and an access track had already been granted by the Otago Regional Council, the Central Otago District Council said it was not good enough.
The company then filed an application for retrospective consent, which drew only one submission – from the Browns at Millers Flat, who opposed the application to the district council if (and only if) the dredging operation continued operating in its current location at this location and its new application before the council only related to a slipway and access track.
A Central Otago District Council hearings panel heard the application on December 10, 2013. Both of the Browns filed a submission opposing the application. Irene Brown somewhat mystified the panel by saying in evidence that it was not the loudness of the noise from the dredge that bugged them, but its constancy.
For the company, Cold Gold Clutha’s project manager Peter Hall argued that it would be impracticable to further restrict the hours the dredge was working and pointed out that the company already had a licence to operate on the Clutha River from the Roxburgh Dam to Tuapeka Mouth. The consented noise limit was 55 decibels, he said also, and readings taken below the Brown’s property were well below that.
The Otago District Council released its findings on January 6 of this year acknowledging the company had taken all practicable steps in the design and construction of the dredge to mitigate noise effects and declined to further restrict its operating hours, or force it to move 500 metres upstream, as suggested by the Browns. The temporary slipway was also approved. However, the council did include a clause in its consent requiring Cold Gold Clutha to notify the couple at least 30 days before it started working near their property.
If there is a moral to this story it is that anyone operating a dredge anywhere in New Zealand would be well advised to check the exact number of consents required and by whom before starting operations.
Having done this it would not be a bad idea to seek an acknowledgement in writing from the relevant local authorities that no further consents will be required.