NEWS bottling company Oravida Water plans to expand its operations at Otakiri shocked those at a community meeting last week.
The meeting followed news that owners of neighbouring bottling company Otakiri Springs plans to sell to Chinese company Nongfu. If the sale, contingent upon Oveseas Investment Office approval, goes ahead, Nongfu has indicated it will expand operations to the extent that 94 trucks will travel to and from the bottling plant on Johnson Road daily.
Some members of the community are upset Otakiri Springs has a resource consent to take 700,000 litres of water daily for bottling purposes and a further 158,000 litres for agricultural purposes, while only paying $2003 annually for compliance costs.
The community meeting was held at the Otakiri Hall on Thursday. Organiser Maureen Fraser said about 80 people turned up and she expected more than 100 people to participate in today’s Save Our Water rally outside Whakatane District Council.
Mrs Fraser said last week’s meeting discussed companies being able to take fresh water to sell overseas and the Otakiri Springs takeover.
“But imagine our surprise when some of the [district] councillors told us that Oravida was planning a huge expansion that would make the Otakiri Springs one look small by comparison.
“They said that Oravida are looking at becoming the largest water bottling plant in the country. Everyone was pretty shocked to hear that they are planning any expansion.”
Mrs Fraser said community members were concerned about plans to expand the sale of artesian water because of the impact on freshwater supplies, the increase in heavy traffic in the area, noise pollution, and doubts about job creation claims linked to the expansion.
Nongfu had said 50 jobs would arise, but it was not clear whether these were construction jobs that might then disappear, or ongoing roles related to bottling.
“There are certainly pluses to having businesses come to the area, but are we targeting the right type of industry?” Mrs Fraser said.
Whakatane district councillor Gerard van Beek was one who shared Oravida Waters’ expansion plans. He said he found the plans in an online prospectus but declined to comment further to the Beacon yesterday.
Oravida Waters has held a consent since 1981 that will expire in 2026. The company can take 400,000 litres each day for bottling purposes and last year it paid $526 in compliance costs.
Oravida spokeswoman Robyn Farmer said the company had no relationship with Otakiri Springs. She would not answer any other questions about expansion plans.
However, on Oravida’s website, its director of branded business in New Zealand, Mark Mitchell, says Oravida plans to expand existing operations “at the source”, investing in upgrades to equipment and increasing capacity.
“We’re going to move to a 24-hour-a-day operation, and we expect to grow our local workforce twofold over the next few years.
“We’re confident our water will be popular with our customers and anticipate that exports will grow threefold within the first year,” he says.
According to Mr Mitchell, the market for New Zealand water is an untapped opportunity that could soon rival well-established exports.
Bay of Plenty Regional Council says it has not received any applications from Oravida Water to increase the amount of water that it can take.
Whakatane District Council public affairs manager Ross Boreham said Oravida had not lodged any consent applications.
A third bottling plant, Antipodes Water Company, also operates in the Otakiri area and under a resource consent issued in 1994, at a cost of $100, can take 800,000 litres daily.
The Save Our Water rally starts at 12pm outside Whakatane District Council’s Civic Centre, on Commerce Street.