Seddon farmer wants better monitoring of saltworks

A Marlborough man who farms next to the saltworks south of Seddon is backing an idea for better monitoring of its effects on neighbours.

The saltworks, near Seddon. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

In his submission to the Marlborough District Council‘s proposed environment plan, Bruce Pattie supports the idea of a landcare group. It would be made up of residents, iwi, the Department of Conservation and the salt works company to manage the boundary area of the Lake Grassmere Salt Works Zone.

The mineral has been harvested from the hot, dry salt plains at Grassmere since the 1940s, and is now managed by Dominion Salt.

The saltworks were set up in 1943 by Australian-born businessman and Para Rubber Company founder George Skellerup.

He set up the saltworks at the government‘s request, and a monument to his efforts rests on top of a windy ridge overlooking Clifford Bay, beyond the lagoon.

Mr Pattie said his father watched the works being built, and they have mostly put up with the damage caused to pasture through salt drift. He said the works were a valuable contributor to the region, but he supported better environmental monitoring of the boundary area.

“I am worried that things are put in place and an outfit like that can‘t just say, ‘we aren‘t doing any damage‘, and yet they‘ve got a much bigger chequebook when it comes to lawyers if things come to … an issue, than any farming individual‘s going to have,” Mr Pattie said.

The process of making salt begins with sea water pumped into the main 688-hectare lake throughout summer. As evaporation increases the sea water‘s strength, it is pumped into a series of concentrating ponds, where further evaporation takes place.

When the brine reaches saturation point it is transferred to crystallisation ponds.

Salt ponds, near Seddon. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

During the brief harvest period – about six weeks in autumn, the salt crust is lifted from the bottom of the crystallisation ponds, and taken to one of the two washing plants where it is washed in brine before being stacked in 20-metre high piles.

Mr Pattie said the series of severe and damaging earthquakes that have hit Seddon since 2013 have also prompted fresh thinking around environmental management.

“When earthquakes come along, you realise the landscape is ever-changing – it‘s just on what scale and length you‘re talking, but we‘re trying to look at the whole, big picture from everybody‘s side.”

Dominion Salt said in its submission it was not opposed to monitoring, but did not think it was necessary at this time.

It said the saltworks brought positive environmental benefit, including flood mitigation on State Highway 1, and during summertime it ensured there was enough water in the lake to prevent dust pollution, and to help enhance the habitat of indigenous flora and fauna.

The Marlborough District Council is well under way with the process to update its environment plan, which has been years in the making.

It aims to merge the region‘s policy statement and two separate resource management plans into a single resource management document for the district.