KaweRau Jet Services Holdings Ltd v Queenstown-Lakes District Council
Decision No.  NZEnvC 419
BEFORE THE ENVIRONMENT COURT
Environment Judge L J Newhook
Environment Commissioner J R Mills
Environment Commissioner D Bunting
In The Matter of an appeal under section 120 of the Resource Management Act 1991
Ms P A Steven & Ms L Gray for Applicant
Mr G M Todd for Respondent
Mr J R Castiglione & Ms J E Laming (in May and June), Mr C N Whata and Mr D J Minhinnick (in July) for the Appellants
Appeal against a decision of the respondent council to grant resource consent for another company to operate commercial jet boats on the Kawerau River — whether consent should be denied on the grounds of: potential failure to meet relevant noise standards; inadequate proposals for radio communication between vessels; maritime safety; inadequacies in the new company's Safe Operational Plan and effects on amenity values — opposition motivated by trade competition.
The issues were: whether consent should be denied on grounds of: potential failure to meet relevant noise standards; inadequate proposals for radio communication between vessels; maritime safety; inadequacies in QWT's Safe Operational Plan and effects on amenity values.
Held: The rule in the District Plan was applicable to non-residential activities, which arguably could include jet boating, however the specific class of jet boat activity had its own noise standard. The specific control of jet boat noise should override the general control on non-residential activities. The Court was entitled to rely on QWT's assurance that it would not breach the engine noise rule standard. Cumulative noise effects did not convert that which might otherwise be a discretionary activity into a non-complying activity.
K-Jet had actively sought to frustrate QWT's solutions to radio communication which suggested patch protection rather than safety. K-Jet's attempt to establish an exclusive radio channel was potentially contrary to the interests of safety. There would be no significant threat to safety by the introduction of another operator on the river if users abided by the collision rules and adopted a suitable radio protocol that provided for the free flow of useful information for safety reasons while protecting commercial sensitivity on some information.
If K-Jet exercised all of its consents and consent was granted to QWT, operational safety from passing movements on the river would not be comprised, contingent on a rigid observance of the “river right” rule and any other relevant maritime rules, the synchronisation of each operator's Safe Operational Plans including clear communication protocols, and the finalisation of conditions of consent to reflect these things.
K-Jet's expressed fears had been considerably overstated and could be properly addressed by carefully prepared conditions.
It was clear that any increase in boat movements would make the river and its environs a busier and nosier place. However, K-Jet's proposition that the existing consents represented the “threshold of acceptability” was not accepted. There was no foundation to substantiate such a proposition. There was also no evidence to suggest what level of boating activity would be acceptable and at what point it would become unacceptable. Any adverse effects on landscape and amenity would be no more than minor.
Consent should be tentatively forthcoming to QWT. There would need to be separate activity around the Safe Operational Plans and necessary conditions to the consents.
A. Possible consent indicated, subject to other processes occurring, and conditions of consent then being settled.
B. Costs reserved.
Applications were brought by Queenstown Water Taxis Limited (“QWT”), the applicant, as follows:
[a] To operate one commercial jet boat (up to four trips per day) on the Kawerau River from the Kawerau River bridge, approximately 14km downstream to near the Arrow River confluence;
[b] To operate up to 3 boats (approximately 10 trips per day) on Lake Wakatipu and the Kawerau River to approximately 14km downstream to near the Arrow River confluence;
[c] Both applications involving pick-up and drop-off of passengers at an established berth at a jetty in Queenstown Bay, or at Frankton Marina.
The first appellant, Kawerau Jet Services Holdings Limited is essentially a sole incumbent commercial jet boat operator on the relevant part of the Kawerau River, holding a number of resource consents issued over some years.
QWT's “one boat” application had originally been granted on a non-notified basis, but was quashed by the High Court on review in March 2009. 1
Our hearing, originally scheduled to run for two weeks, ultimately took a great deal more time, and without putting too fine a point on it, was filled with drama. The greatly extended hearing occurred despite attempts at firm hearing management, for instance, agreement reached in conference between the Court and counsel limiting statements of evidence to given numbers of pages (generally 20), and agreement onlength of time for cross-examination of witnesses (subject to leave to extend in need). Through the May and June parts of the hearing, the expansion of hearing time was caused principally by the appellants essentially “taking every point”, and putting the applicant and the respondent to the proof on a host of matters that in to quite some degree ultimately proved unnecessary. Some of the points also required unusual steps to be taken to allow intervention by a non-party, Maritime New Zealand (“MNZ”), and for arrangements to be made for the Court to call its own independent witness in one of the key areas, that of radio communications.
It is fair to record that with the appointment of alternative counsel for the appellants in July, matters were returned to a more “even keel”, with a number of issues being removed from focus or accorded lesser importance, and a more appropriate focus placed on key matters. We stress as well that in listening to the case and preparing our decision, we have been at pains to put aside the more colourful or dramatic aspects of the hearing, and bring the focus back to the technical issues of importance to it.
It is also fair to record that the respondent through its counsel and witnesses presented a focussed and professional case, although it can also be said that in some measure, some of the key issues such as maritime safety and radio communications involved a complexity caused in part by the extent of pre-existing consenting of commercial jet boating activities on the river.
As already noted, there were two appeals, one by the incumbent commercial jet boat operator K-Jet, and the other by its related company Clearwater Pursuits Limited, a consented operator of commercial rafting and kayaking activities on the Kawerau River. It was noted during the hearing, that for whatever reason, the latter has not operated its consented activities for several seasons.
The appeals raised amultitude of grounds, including: lack of maritime safety; lack of safety arising from inadequate proposals for radio communications amongst vessels including those of the appellants; inadequacies with QWT's Safe Operational Plan approved by MNZ; differences between proposals placed before MNZ and resource management consent authorities; inadequacies of descriptions of proposed activities and assessment of effects; potential failure to meet relevant noise standards in the District Plan; allegations that the activity status (discretionary) as held by the Commissioners was not correct; failure to accurately describe or assess the proposed activity or the environment against which die application should be assessed, including die appellants' consented existing and planned operations on Lake Wakatipu, the Shotover River, and the Kawerau River; effects on amenity values including outstanding natural landscapes and features of the lake and rivers and the adjoining and nearby environment; effects on nature and conservation values; potential for derogation of the appellants' consented existing and planned operations; adverse safety and traffic effects on recreational as well as commercial boating and other activities on the lake and rivers; effects on “high quality operations and experience the appellants provide to customers unspecified additional effects on access to the lake and rivers and associated nearby land and/or facilities; effects of noise on the environment; precedent effect; cumulative effects including in respect of the appellants' “legitimate expectation” in relation to alleged thresholds for commercial boating operations; failure to consider alternatives; failure to consider relevant case law; inadequate and inappropriate proposed conditions of consent that would not adequately avoid, remedy or mitigate the effects of the proposed activity; contravention of the purpose and principles of the Act in Part 2; contravention of provisions of the District Plan.
During May and June, the extent of issues to be resolved expanded rather than narrowed, with hearing time being consumed by diversions...
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