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Wastewater issues long been ‘ignored’

For 10 years, South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] ignored consent requirements for Martinborough’s wastewater treatment plant that needed to be fixed.

This is according to South Wairarapa Mayor Alex Beijen, who said this was found in an audit.

It comes after news that Greater Wellington Regional Council issued an abatement notice to SWDC.

SWDC has been given until August 2023 to conform with consent conditions pertaining to discharge of effluent to land and some other factors.

Under the Resource Management Act [RMA], abatement notices can only be issued by a warranted enforcement officer.

Notices are issued when the enforcement officer believes on reasonable grounds that there is, or is likely to be, a contravention of the RMA or an adverse effect on the environment.

Beijen said he was advised partway through creating the Annual Plan that an audit had been completed of the wastewater treatment plant, which found that “for 10 years council had ignored requirements at the time of the consent that they had to fix”.

He said he had a “rigorous” discussion with Wellington Water [WW] about the issue, and they said SWDC had not allocated money to fix the problems.

“The reason we haven’t allocated money is because you have not given us a detailed rectification plan with dollars attached,” he said about WW.

SWDC chief executive Harry Wilson confirmed operating expenditure funding was available, but no significant funding capital required to improve the performance of the plant had been “put aside”.

SWDC partnerships and operations manager Stefan Corbett said WW had identified the range of factors at each wastewater plant that needed to be fixed for SWDC to comply with consents.

This included de-sludging ponds “which should have been done since the 80s”, and screening, Corbett said.

“There’s a massive list of things that need to be done to each plant in order to bring it into compliance which tallies a considerable sum per plant.”

He said SWDC did not have a management plan addressing the problems that could be fixed with money available.

“That’s the conversation we need to have.

“The abatement notice, though it’s concerning, is part of the ongoing dialogue we are having with the regulator on where we need to get to with each of the plants.”

It was made public last month that unfunded wastewater projects could open SWDC up to prosecution.

Greater Wellington Regional Council had issued several “please explain” letters to SWDC over the past year. Although $5.3 million in capital expenditure is planned for South Wairarapa’s water infrastructure this financial year, the proposed programme of work did not include wastewater treatment plant compliance for Martinborough, Greytown, or Lake Ferry.

These plants, according to chief executive Harry Wilson, “have never been compliant”.

In May, documents from WW showed all three South Wairarapa’s urban wastewater treatment plants were non-compliant and Greytown and Martinborough wastewater treatment plants were in need of “major investment”.

The report said funding levels from South Wairarapa District Council “do not meet this requirement”. – NZLDR

  • Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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