The site proposed for irrigation of Featherston’s wastewater. PHOTO/FILE.

MARCUS ANSELM

marcus.anselm@age.co.nz

A hearing into Featherston’s wastewater treatment plant upgrade has been delayed again.

South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] has a long-standing application to Greater Wellington Regional Council [GWRC] for resource consent to irrigate wastewater to land rather than Donald’s Creek.

Late last week, the regional council accepted an application from SWDC to delay the hearing.

A November 1 deadline for the hearings has been extended to the end of May 2020.

The extension comes after previous deferments in March and June.

The consent application hearing will be held before an independent panel of commissioners on behalf of GWRC.

SWDC chief executive Harry Wilson said the application was for a March 2020 deadline, but GWRC’s preference was for a later date.

The SWDC’s application for a delay came through a wish to ensure residents were kept up to date, Wilson said.

In recent weeks, the council has held engagement sessions in the town and hosted tours of its other treatment plants.

“We’re pulling out all the stops to make sure people are informed,” he said.

Garrick Emms was one of the Featherston residents who made a submission regarding the treatment plant.

His South Wairarapa Wastewater Action Team [SWWAT] held a public meeting in the town in July.

He said the group was “philosophical” about another delay, but was keen that the district council would hold further meetings to discuss the matter, and the scope of its application.

“We’re back to where we were before.

“This has been going on for so long – the delays and extensions.

“We are back in a holding pattern.”

Emms said a number of people had moved into the district since the first application was lodged in February 2017.

“So, a lot of people didn’t know or didn’t have an opportunity to offer a submission.

“We think these new people should have the opportunity to make a comment if they’re going to alter the scheme of what was originally proposed.

“These guys have never had a chance to comment or find out what’s going on.”

Emms said SWWAT wanted a pre-hearing meeting with the district and regional councils, iwi, and submitters to discuss the plans, and allow input from newer residents and to determine the project’s scope.

“I think we can get a solution if we sit down together.”

Emms is one of four candidates vying for three Featherston ward councillor positions in the local elections.

He is standing against Brenda West, who was a community board member, and incumbent SWDC councillors Colin Olds and Ross Vickery.

Olds said although he was “disappointed there is a delay in the consent hearings … it was quite clear there was more science and more testing needed and certainly in terms of pathogens entering the aquafer”.

“I think the delay will achieve a better outcome for our community at the end of the day.

“The commissioners have got the facts in front of them to make the appropriate decision.”

Vickery said the decision to delay the hearing was “entirely consistent to the council’s decision to review the treatment wastewater will get before dispersal to land”.

“At the moment, we are sitting on an application which is dated.

He said GWRC officers had previously recommended to decline the consent application earlier this year “for a number of reasons”.

“I lobbied council for a reconsideration so those concerns could be addressed.

“Initially there was resistance to that, but there has been substantial change of mind.

“People have listened to the submitters, consulted widely with the public as to what Featherston requires for safe water dispersal as well as maintaining high environmental standards and quality of life in the areas.

“It’s my wish that wastewater be treated to a higher rate than the current application but the degree to which that has to be done or can be done is still under investigation with scientific analysis of the receiving environment, and other factors.

“This means the current application cannot proceed later this year and needs to be revised and resubmitted, and that’s consistent with a hearing in May next year.

“It’s a shame we have to face this delay.

“But in my view, this is entirely because the initial application and decision to treat as it was flawed.”

West said she did not believe the current solution would work as she felt it was “not compliant to today’s, or future, water requirements.

“Honestly, the best way to do this is to listen to what the people want, as their voice is not being heard.

“Council have never strayed away from their current position. Not once.

“They say they can’t, and it’s really hard.

“I believe they can, and the right solution is out there.

“It definitely needs investigation, but technology has changed in 10 years since the project was first mooted. Vastly changed.

“And we don’t need to look within our backyard, within Wairarapa.

“There are international solutions which would fit the bill.”