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Geothermal hearing to be adjourned

The hearing of consent applications for Contact Energy’s Wairakei geothermal field is to be adjourned at the end of March to give Taupo District Council time to assess information about materials drilled in one of Taupo’s subsidence areas.

The hearing – before commissioners Simon Berry, David Hill and Professor Patrick Browne - began in Taupo on March 1. The District Council had applied to be the last submitter heard and for an adjournment to ensure time for information being analysed at Auckland University to be available.

The application was supported by Christopher Penney, a landowner in the Crown Road- Invergarry Road area.

The District Council wanted a 12-week interval between the last submitter and giving its evidence, but the application was opposed by both Contact and the other applicant, Geotherm Group, whose case is planned to be heard immediately after Contact’s case.

The Committee said that while it would prefer to hear all of the Contact application before beginning Geotherm’s case, it was willing to adjourn after hearing all evidence and submissions on Contact’s case so that Geotherm’s case could be heard while it was waiting for the information. Three months sought was too long, it said.

Subsidence in the Crown Rd and Invergarry Rd area, which the District Council says is caused by Contact’s deep geothermal extraction, is a source of great concern to it and local landowners. The District Council says that the results of the drillhole core testing and peer review by overseas experts was fundamentally important to their case and that it would be placed in a difficult position if it required to present its evidence before May 20.

The Committee decided to grant an adjournment but for a shorter period than that asked for and made a number of orders in relation to the proceedings. The Committee said that these orders would establish a fair and appropriate procedure and one which best meets the needs of the parties and least disadvantages those opposing the adjournment.

The hearing of Contact’s case will now adjourn once all submitters other than the District Council have been heard, and Geotherm’s hearing will begin on Monday, April 5. The hearing of Contact’s application will resume on Monday, May 10. The hearing of Geotherm’s reply will follow the close of the Contact hearing.

Information about the core samples would assist the Committee to assess the effects of Contact’s applications.

"Given the high level of public concern over subsidence and the possible causes thereof, public confidence in the hearing process is of fundamental importance. In the circumstances, the Committee considers that public confidence in the RMA hearing process would best be promoted by providing a reasonable opportunity for that information to be available before Taupo District Council is required to present its case."

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