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Featherston’s wastewater options not made public

South Wairarapa’s deputy mayor Garrick Emms says the wait for an update on Featherston’s wastewater treatment project has been “totally unsatisfactory”.

The last public update on the project was when community consultation on a long list of options was underway in December 2020.

At a recent Featherston Community Board meeting, Emms asked for an update from Wellington Water and South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] officers to keep elected members and the community in the loop.

Emms said councillors received a shortlist of options and cost estimates in August last year, but these were never made public.

However, Mayor Alex Beijen previously said a “worst-case scenario” pricetag for the Featherston Wastewater Treatment Plant could be $37 million.

A Wellington Water spokesperson said a long list of options was reduced to a shortlist in February last year and was “provided to officers and councillors of SWDC”.

They said the options in the shortlist were “all very expensive” and that the council had asked for further information on options that were more affordable and consentable.

“This involved numerous discussions with Greater Wellington Regional Council as the consenting authority,” Wellington Water said.

“In December 2021, after reviewing the shortlist and addressing the additional information requests from SWDC, we presented a modified shortlist.”

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Elected members had not seen this shortlist because council officers again asked for more details from Wellington Water.

“We also wanted account taken of a trial we wished undertaken on the site using MBR [membrane biorector] technology,” SWDC operations and partnerships manager Stefan Corbett said.

“Wellington Water was therefore asked to redo the [December 2021] paper, which we understand has now been completed and is expected to be submitted to council [staff and councillors] shortly.”

The question of what to do with Featherston’s wastewater has been a long-running issue.

In 2011, SWDC finalised its goal to have 100 per cent of the district’s wastewater irrigated to land by 2040.

When Hodder Farm in Featherston came up for sale in 2014, the council bought the 166-hectare block on Murphy’s Line with the intention to use it for irrigation as well as the Featherston Golf Course in 2018.

The district applied for a consent for the upgrades to its Featherston operation in 2017, but overwhelming public opposition led to a series of hearings, which were cancelled three times.

Emms was one of the most vocal critics of the process and led a successful campaign about the treatment plant before his election in 2019.

He lives on Longwood Rd and owns one of several properties located near the land the council had planned to discharge treated wastewater.

At the time, the council had written to 26 landowners in the area, including Emms, telling them their bores were “potentially at an increased risk of contamination” from the scheme.

In March 2020, SWDC canned the Featherston proposals and started again with its new infrastructure partner, Wellington Water.

Later that year, Wellington Water and SWDC presented the community with a long list of options to deal with Featherston’s wastewater, including discharging treated wastewater to water, land, a combination of both, or reusing and redistributing.

Local Democracy Reporting requested the December 2021 report with options and costs from Wellington Water which was presented to council officers last year.

The request was referred to South Wairarapa District Council.

A Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act request for the document is active with the council, and a response is due no later than April 22.

Previously, Beijen said the real problem at the heart of the Featherston Wastewater Treatment Plant issue was that the Ministry for the Environment had not yet released updated standards for compliance.

Currently, wastewater standards fell under the Resource Management Act [RMA], but The Natural and Built Environments Bill would replace this.

“[The standards] are still not due out, which is really hampering our willingness to settle on a solution that may not be appropriate for the new regulations,” Beijen said previously.

Wellington Water said the project was complex and had to “balance the environmental outcomes that our community require of us alongside the cost of treatment to provide those outcomes”.

“It is important that we explore all possible options and assess that against the affordability for the community.”– NZLDR

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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