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It’s finally over . . .

Long road to solution for arsenic-contaminated land

Community pitches in to create happy ending

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A Carterton family whose rural dream was shattered after discovering the land they were living on was riddled with arsenic have seen the issue resolved thanks to the community.

Rupert and Heidi Holbrook purchased a piece of land on Andersons Line, near Carterton, in 2013.

They were devastated when they discovered chemicals from an historic sheep dip were not simply concentrated at the old woolshed – which they had been told needed remediation – but spilled across the surrounding paddocks, near the family home.

One soil test taken by the woolshed recorded an arsenic concentration of 530mg/kg, at a depth of 0-15cm – 31 times the recommended national health standard.

But since the Times-Age broke the story in August last year, a community effort has seen a new driveway installed on the property.

The original land owner, Alistair Smith, was happy to swap the contaminated land for a section on the other side of the home last year.

The land swap meant the Holbrooks needed a new driveway with access off Connolly’s Line.

In a statement, the Holbrook family thanked those in the community who gave their time and expertise to move forward with a solution.

“We are very grateful that we were able to swap one side of our property containing the contamination for an alternative adjoining piece,” they said.

“The installation of a new driveway completes the project.”

Mr Smith said it was “no skin off my nose” to exchange the contaminated land.

He told the Times-Age last year that he was not aware of the extent of the arsenic in the soil when he sold the land.

At the time he said, “we just went to the council and they approved the subdivision and everything that goes with it”.

“To me it wasn’t a problem . . . I’ll take the land back and fix it up and re-plant it and re-sell it.”

Anyone interested in buying the land would have access to all the testing results done over the past few years, he said.

Installing the driveway involved a lot of work, including more than 50 truckloads of metal, Mr Smith said.

A new culvert was put in place for a semi-dry waterway, followed by the new driveway.

Farmers with machinery, along with members from Lions and Rotary helped out.

NZ First MP and former Carterton Mayor Ron Mark said his “heart went out to the Holbrooks”.

“When a family is pushed to the limit and faced the real prospect of being bankrupt and not being able to live on the property that they purchased, it puts them under a hell a lot of pressure and stress.”

He said the Holbrooks had done everyone a favour by highlighting how prospective buyers needed to understand exactly the state of the land they were interested in.

“Because once you have bought it, it’s yours and all the problems that come with it, which also highlights a lesson for the council,” Mr Mark said.

“Thank God Carterton has a truck load of community-minded citizens.”

Carterton councillor Jill Greathead said she had supported the Holbrooks from the beginning.

“The nice thing was we were able to minimise the costs for the Holbrooks by installing the driveway,” she said.

Mrs Greathead also hoped “a lot of lessons had been learned” by the council and future land-buyers.

Carterton District Council planning and regulatory manager Dave Gittings said the council would be taking a different approach to applications to subdivide land.

It would put “a greater emphasis” on the importance to request a LIM report, for both rural and urban properties, would point out “even a remote possibility” that a piece of land had a historic sheep dip on it.

“We would advise any buyers to get as much information on the property they are buying as soon as possible,” he said.

However, in some cases it was was not always obvious where a sheep dip may have been due to lack of records, Mr Gittings said.

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