Investigation launched over 'illegal dumping' claims at Pukaki Airport


February 17, 2021

A construction company owner who admits dumping around 300 tons of building material at Pukaki Airport, including potentially contaminated waste from the Lake Ōhau Village fire demolition, says he believed he had permission to do so.

Tricorp Enterprises director John Wilkinson said his company had dumped about 50 tons of construction site waste into a pit on airport property every two months between November 2019 and November 2020.

Wilkinson said he believed he had permission to dump materials at the site and had stopped doing so when the Mackenzie District Council, which owns the land, asked him to do so.

However, council says no such permission was given for what they labelled “illegal dumping” and it is now investigating.

The Mackenzie District Council, which owns the Pukaki Airport, claims Tricorp did not have permission to dump in the pit on the property.
JOHN BISSET/STUFF
The Mackenzie District Council, which owns the Pukaki Airport, claims Tricorp did not have permission to dump in the pit on the property.

“Council would not agree to dumping of waste on council owned or managed land without understanding the nature of the waste, the regulatory implications, or having a written agreement in place,’’ a council spokesperson said.

“Testing of the material has not yet occurred and so it has not been established that the materials are contaminated.’’

The company was contracted by the airport in November 2019 to put in a new drop zone for a parachute business. As part of that contract, Tricorp was granted permission to dump top-soil into a large pit on airport land.

The pit is on the northern edge of the airport land away from airport buildings and has a separate access road off State Highway 8.

Both the Mackenzie District Council and Tricorp agree that permission was given to dump clean fill from an airport development in November 2019.
JOHN BISSET/STUFF
Both the Mackenzie District Council and Tricorp agree that permission was given to dump clean fill from an airport development in November 2019.

Wilkinson has documentation outlining this agreement, as does the council which said the pit “has previously been used (appropriately) for dumping of a quantity of clean-fill related to site clearing for construction projects within the airport boundary”.

“Tricorp had permission from council to dump clean-fill from an airport development at the site in 2019. This permission related to materials from the specific project only,” council says.

Wilkinson said at the time of the airport job, Tricorp was informed it could no longer dump materials into pits owned by Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency on the other side of Lake Ruataniwha.

He said he asked then-airport manager Trevor Shadbolt, who was killed in a light aircraft crash in July 2020, if they could dump materials at the site where they had disposed of the topsoil.

Wilkinson has no proof of being granted permission, but claims Shadbolt told him he could use the pit whenever he wanted and allowed him to put his own lock on a gate at the airport.

Access to the pit is through a gate straight off State Highway 8.
JOHN BISSET/STUFF
Access to the pit is through a gate straight off State Highway 8.

Rick Ramsay, a Pukaki airport board member in November 2019, can remember the agreement to dump the clean fill for the drop zone, but could not confirm if the agreement was for ongoing use.

Aviation Adventures owner Chris Rudge, whose business is in the Pukaki airport, confirmed that Tricorp had a padlock on the gate.

A council spokesperson said no record of any such permission exists.

“Trevor Shadbolt understood the importance of due process, and we have no reason to believe he would have entered into an agreement of this nature on behalf of council without the proper checks and balances.”

Wilkinson questioned why no one contacted him sooner, especially given he had a padlock on the gate to the pit.

“[If Tricorp wasn’t allowed to dump] why wouldn’t they ring me up and say ‘hey come take your padlock off’ ... Why would I leave my loader in plain sight if I was doing something sneaky? It’s on the main road. If I was doing something sneaky why wouldn’t I cart it out at night? Why would I cart it past the airport, where everyone can see me?”

Concrete and rubbish in the Pukaki Airport pit.
JOHN BISSET/STUFF
Concrete and rubbish in the Pukaki Airport pit.

“If I had known I was doing wrong, I wouldn’t have done wrong.

“If I’ve made a mistake I’ve made a mistake. As soon as [council told us it was their land] we stopped. We never went near the place again. If that’s illegal dumping, well I’m guilty.”

“Ninety per cent of what we cart out there is concrete waste. Some of it’s concrete that’s been left over. Most of it, they put it in a pit, and they wash it out, and then they put it in another pit to dry out, and then we cart it out there and tip it over the edge.”

After a wildfire destroyed 48 buildings in Lake Ōhau Village last October, Tricorp was contracted to assist with the demolition.

ECan regional leader compliance delivery James Tricker told Stuff at the end of October that ash and debris from the burnt houses, which can potentially contaminate soil, had to be removed from Ohau and taken to special landfills, with the soil tested to ensure it was safe.

Rubbish in the Pukaki airport pit.
JOHN BISSET/STUFF
Rubbish in the Pukaki airport pit.

Some inert material from the demolition was allowed to be stored and disposed elsewhere with ECan’s permission.

Wilkinson said Tricorp “took our debris, the stuff that was left on top of the slabs ... We scraped that off and took it to the Envirowaste tip in Twizel and then they took it [to a landfill].”

He said concrete from the cleanup was then dumped into the pit at Pukaki Airport.

“We tipped concrete from Ōhau, I’m not denying that. How can concrete be contaminated? It’s concrete.”

The dumping of building materials requires a resource consent from Environment Canterbury.

The pit is alongside State Highway 8.
JOHN BISSET/STUFF
The pit is alongside State Highway 8.

ECan zone delivery lead southern Peter Burt said there are no consents, and have never been any consents, for dumping on the Pukaki Airport site.

“We are aware of the alleged dumping event and are working closely with Mackenzie District Council to investigate it,” he said.

Pukaki Adventures owner Neville Cunningham, whose business is also in the airport, said Wilkinson wasn’t the only external party dumping in the pit.

“He can’t be singled out. There are two other people that I know of that have done exactly the same,” he said.

Both Cunningham and Wilkinson pointed out that there were two more padlocks on the gate, besides the one owned by Tricorp and one owned by the airport.

There is currently a single padlock on the gate into the pit, barring use for everyone.
JOHN BISSET/STUFF
There is currently a single padlock on the gate into the pit, barring use for everyone.

Cunningham said the purpose of the pit was to assist the airport businesses' developments. When a new development goes in the airport the cleared material gets taken to the pit to be sorted into building materials, dirt, and rock, which are then disposed of appropriately, so that debris and potentially dangerous dust don’t surround the airport.

Cunningham said the amount of time it’s taking for council to resolve the dumping situation and reopen the pit, which has been locked to all users for months, is “a pain in the a..e”.

“Every new building we’d be using it. There are 40 buildings to go and what we’re trying to do is get that open so it can be used in conjunction with the development.”