Transmission Lines Could Pose
Threat to State Highway OneK Gurunathan 15th October 2009
Transpower has just revealed it has been unable to fix “required” works on adjacent power poles for over a year because of legal challenges.
Meanwhile the high-voltage transmission lines passing over the State Highway south of the Mackay’s flyover have been protected with nets.
Faulty power poles could not be fixed because local landowners have refused to grant Transpower contractors access.
The landowners’ group, calling itself the Kapiti High Voltage Coalition, has taken the matter to the High Court. Mediation is scheduled to start on November 23.
Back in April, 2007, local media were contacted by near-by Valley Road residents, who reported that power poles were bending and cracking.
The problems were to have been fixed late last year. And in October, 2008, Transpower told the DomPost the nets would be removed by Christmas.
Now Transpower communications manager, Rebecca Wilson, says its contractors have not been able to access private land to fix power poles.
So the nets will remain.
On the question of a continued need for the nets, Ms Wilson says it is “unfortunate” Transpower has not been able to secure property access to undertake the repair work.
However, a look at the history of the issue, residents suggest, shows that Transpower was using a tactic of exhausting the resources of the residents to make them give up.
The landowners’ grievance goes back to 2002 when Transpower secured a non-notified consent from Kapiti Coast District Council. The application claimed it was for maintenance work on the Paekakariki/Mangahao lines.
Under the Kapiti District Plan, such work would be permitted provided the “character and scale of visual effects after any upgrading will be the same or less than that existing prior to the upgrading,” says the Plan.
The plan also states this rule does not apply to additional structures or increases in the size of the lines.
Brendan Hindry, who operates the Palm Grove Christian Holiday Camp on Valley Road, went public about their concerns in 2007.
He said locals were not consulted and knew nothing.
“One Sunday morning early in 2003 I heard all this banging and clanging and workmen were taking the old pole down and putting a new one up,” he said.
The new poles had longer cross arms extending into private properties and were carrying thicker conductors with the capacity to increase the existing 110kv to 220kv.
“Afraid to paint the roof”
At Mr Hindry’s property the lines hung low over the roof of the chapel. “I’ll be afraid to paint the roof. It’s scary stuff,” he said.
Another resident, Mike Alexander, suspicious of the process, commissioned electrical engineering consultants McCorkindale Associates.
The $4,000 report concluded that the works were not for maintenance but an upgrade that raised significant health and safety issues. The thicker conductors also had the capacity to double the volts from the existing 110kv to 220kv.
Mr Alexander and Mr Hindry posted the report to Transpower on April 27, 2005.
Documents show that Transpower promised to come back with answers within a month.
When Mr Hindry spoke to the media in early April 2007, he had been kept waiting for two years.
The residents were not only battling Transpower but also Kapiti Coast District Council which had issued the consent for the work.
Documents show that KCDC had fast tracked the 2002 consent application.
Transpower’s Palmerston North-based agents, Earth Matters, had sent in the application on Friday December 8, 2002 and it was issued the following Monday, December 11.
It was issued despite KCDC planning staff noting the District Plan did not permit additional lines without resource consent.
Also, the then district planner, Andrew Guerin, stated in an email the application should go to council’s Environmental Committee.
The decision approving the consent stated the effects on the environment would be minor; the application was in accordance with the District Plan and “there are no parties considered to be adversely affected by the proposal”.
Council promise to residents
Three days after Mr Hindry went public in April 9, 2007, KCDC senior manager Kevin Jefferies said council was prepared to look at the claims of the residents while its communications spokesman, Tony Cronin, said the residents should seek a judicial review from the High Court.
On April 23 2007, affected residents turned up at a full council meeting. Jenny Rowan, adviser to the group and then a mayoral candidate, said councillors “sat like stunned mullets” as they heard the stories.
Waikanae resident Eugene Junker said he had to sell two of his three properties after the “maintenance work” saw the cross arms extend into his property.
The metal fence along his properties started giving electric shocks especially when the air was humid. The neon bulbs in his property started to flicker even though it was switched off. Transpower told him to replace his metal fence by a wood fence but he had to pay for it…
Paekakariki resident Mike Reipen said Transpower had carried out “maintenance work” on the lines over his property without giving him technical details.
He said the electrical engineering consultant he hired advised him to close his swimming pool down for fear of electrification.
His property value had dropped by $100,000. He said Transpower had initially agreed to move his house. But this was estimated to cost $400,000 and no action was taken.
In a comment to the media at the time, Ms Rowan described the situation as a serious matter with significant consequences for health, safety and property rights.
“These are little people.” says Ms Rowan
“These are little people who have determined to take on a big agency with deep pockets. They deserve justice and council should act with urgency,” she said.
Information made public during this time indicated that about 250 properties from Paekakariki to Otaki were affected by Transpower’s ‘maintenance work’. These included about 40 residential properties in Waikanae.
In May, Valley Road’s Kapiti Poultry Farm owner Ron de Ruiter went public on attempts by Transpower to buy him off.
He was offered “a substantial” amount of money to allow Transpower to secure guidelines to over stressed power poles and anchor them on his land. He refused. They came back three weeks later offering more money. Again he refused.
He said Transpower wanted the guidelines anchored because within months of erecting the new poles in 2003 the two poles on opposite sides of the road had started to bend towards the golf club property.
“They dug out the base and poured about six metres of concrete to secure the base. It looked alright but again it started to bend. This time cracks appeared on the side facing away from the golf club,” he said.
The following month residents started pressing council to exercise its statutory power and enforce the code of compliance issued to Transpower. Residents were privately informed council should have notified the application.
KCDC admits mismanagement
In June 2007 KCDC issued two reports which admitted its management of the consent process that allowed Transpower to upgrade power lines along Valley Road and Waikanae was not complete and thorough. Council also said Transpower had not provided complete information.
Transpower, however, claimed council could not legally revisit the consent application once it had been granted — and any breach of individual property rights by Transpower should be negotiated between the parties. Mr Alexander, a spokesman for the residents, said it was a whitewash.
In a press release at the time, the then KCDC chief executive, Leigh Halstead, said Transpower had said the upgrade would not make it possible for the current110kv line to be used to transmit 220kv.
He added that if there were “perceived” safety issues these should be directly addressed to Transpower and KCDC was willing to broker a meeting between the two parties.
Mr Halstead’s stated position in June 2007 does not stand up to scrutiny. Electra’s 10-year Asset Management Plan (April 2009 to March 2019) states that Transpower is considering “reinforcement to its core 220kv grid, in particular to 400kv, to maintain the capacity of the grid over the next 20 to 40 years”.
It further states “Transpower is aware of the several legal and environmental hurdles that must be cleared before this can be done”.
It’s clear that while the existing use is 110kv the capacity of the conductors following the 2003 upgrade is 220kv and Transpower had plans to increase that to 400kv. What was holding it back were legal and environmental considerations.
High voltage committee formed
Last week members of the group turned up at a full council meeting demanding that council help foot part of the legal cost of the challenge.
The estimated cost of the challenge is $100,000. They want council to at least pay half.
One resident said council’s claim that Transpower had given it wrong information was no defence. She said it was only fair council pay up for creating this problem because its management of the consent process was faulty.
Another resident warned councillors that the power lines were not safe but would not give details because of the mediation and High Court process currently in place.