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Lack of measurable wastewater progress

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

A lack of tangible progress on the Featherston Wastewater Treatment Plant was called into question by a community board member this week.

Claire Bleakley, of the Featherston Community Board, noted the council had spent $400,000 on its wastewater treatment improvement programme in 2020, which included pond sludge surveys, and also noted a further $500,000 was set aside to develop a suitable wastewater solution for Featherston in the council’s programme of works dashboard.

“I realise that money is going to be spent, but what is happening?” she asked.

“Is it just going into consultation, or is it going into asset delivery that we can show our people that something is being done?”

In 2011, the South Wairarapa District Council [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 purchased the 166-hectare block on Murphy’s Line with the intention to use it for irrigation as well as another 8ha block.

The district council 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.

In March last year, SWDC canned the Featherston proposals, and started from scratch with its new infrastructure partner, Wellington Water.

To date, it is running the existing Featherston Wastewater Treatment Plant on an old consent.

Bleakley said the council was spending “a hell of a lot of money on surveys and consultation – and actually we’ve seen no results”.

“We have spent three years now on our Featherston Wastewater Treatment Plant and we are still no better off and we seem to have spent a million dollars on consultation and sludge surveys.

“I just find it incredibly short-sighted.”

SWDC planning and environment manager Russell O’Leary acknowledged it was taking some time for progress to be made but said the council was relying on Wellington Water to “provide us with a robust and technically appropriate solution”.

“Council is mindful that they need to receive the right information to make the right decisions and have a good solution for the Featherston wastewater issue,” he said.

“I can’t answer the question about the $500,000, having not been directly involved.”

Mayor Alex 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 made public updated standards for compliance.

Wastewater standards fall under the Resource Management Act [RMA], but this is being replaced by the The Natural and Built Environments Bill.

“[The new 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.

“We have been to the Local Government Minister to request that they speed it up and they said they would, and then the Department of Internal Affairs didn’t.”

He said the council and its assets and services committee were working through possible solutions and affordability concerns.

In November last year, Beijen said a “worst-case scenario” price tag for the Featherston Wastewater Treatment Plant could be $37 million.

A report on shortlisted options is yet to be presented in a public forum.

“The money is not being wasted, however it is frustrating that we cannot settle on a solution yet,” Beijen said.

The Featherston Community Board requested that council officers provide a breakdown of the costs of sludge surveying. — NZLDR

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