A group of concerned residents has formed a society to oppose Holcim (New Zealand) Ltd’s proposed cement plant near Weston.
The Waiareka Valley Preservation Society, established at the weekend, already had about 20 members and "numbers are growing daily", society spokesman Rodney Jones said yesterday.
"The group is not a bunch of greenies jumping up and down about the plant from the get go," he said.
Instead, members had studied the information on the $200 million plant released by Holcim since it announced its proposal in May.
Since then, they had begun to realise the size of the development, and its impact, not just on the Waiareka Valley and Oamaru but the whole of North Otago.
"Their [group’s] consensus is it is the wrong development for North Otago," he said.
In the past few years, there had been increased scientific understanding of the negative environmental and social impacts of the Portland cement manufacturing process.
This research indicated the risks to the region associated with Holcim’s proposed plant were unacceptably high, Mr Jones said.
Holcim’s information sheets provided valuable information on the size and nature of the plant, but had not helped the community understand the potentially severe effects on its present and future health, the effects on the environment and the potentially negative impact on economic growth.
The society would be producing information sheets to fill the the gaps. They would make it clear the development was wrong for the community and should not go ahead.
Mr Jones said the society, which was planning a public meeting at Weston before Christmas, would oppose Holcim’s resource consent applications when they were filed early next year and actively encourage others to do so.
Holcim is proposing a plant producing 1 million metric tonnes of cement a year at Weston, which would make it the largest industrial development in the South Island.
The plant would bring about 100 jobs and additional construction-related benefits.
However, it would damage the Waiareka Valley environment and surrounding community irreparably, Mr Jones said.
The society planned to employ a chemist full-time to study the implications of the plant and its effect on the surrounding region.
The group was particularly worried about the effect of heavy metals from the production process.
"In their information sheets, Holcim has failed to mention the significant risks posed by arsenic, mercury, thallium and chromium contamination," he said.
Yet in the US, Holcim spokesmen had acknowledged that "no technology exists in the cement industry to control mercury".
Given the proximity of the plant to Weston, the market gardens of Kakanui and surrounding dairy farms, mercury contamination represented a significant health and economic risk.
"To grant resource consents to Holcim’s cement plant will endanger all that has been achieved in North Otago in recent years," Mr Jones said.