Hastings Council’s Christmas present to Clive residents has been to shut down the new non-functioning Hastings domestic sewage treatment plant!
In an announcement timed to arrive Christmas eve, and sent only to nearby residents and the handful of citizens who have previously formally submitted on sewage plant issues, the Council indicated the plant would be shut down from 23 December to 6 January in order to provide for “further testing and improvement to the operation of the plant.”
Yeah, right! Here’s the real story.
The plant hasn’t worked properly since it was activated back on 30 June. Complaints of foul smells date back at least to early September … and the Council has been unable to rectify the problem. Critics of the Biological Trickling Filter (BTF) plant have pointed out design flaws in the system from the outset … and they appear to be proven correct.
Waste (“biomass”) that accumulates in the BTF tanks cannot be flushed out properly. Leaving aside the issue of whether what the Council calls “biomass” (to appease Maori cultural concerns) and flushes into Hawke’s Bay is really poop, the system simply fails to work “as advertised.”
The only thing “flushing” is the $27 million spent on the plant to date by Hastings Council. How much of that will wind up down the toilet? The Council’s announcement (perhaps implicitly acknowledging the severity of the problem) doesn’t promise much hope. It says the shut down “is a necessary step to try to get the new plant running as it should.” It will be fascinating to watch the finger-pointing between HDC and the contractor (MWH) as each runs for cover!
So what happens while the plant is shut down?
Hastings has received emergency relief (i.e. a waiver from complying with its discharge consent) from the ever-cooperative Regional Council … you know, they’re the ones who protect our environment. Consequently, Hastings domestic wastewater — after milliscreening (which catches only larger materials for removal to landfill) — will simply be discharged into the ocean without further treatment. Happy New Year!
True, HBRC doesn’t have many options other than a “pragmatic approach” (as they call it) when a local Council stuffs it up so badly. But perhaps they might consider imposing a fine on HDC for every day the plant is non-compliant or inoperative … just like they would treat a farmer, right Councillor McGregor? If the Hastings Council had to report paying thousands of dollars in fines (from ratepayer funds), perhaps ratepayers would tolerate less of this Council’s bungling.
A sight to behold will be Council and contractor staff manually hosing “biomass” off the media that will need to be removed from the filtration tanks. Bring your cameras to the Clive plant on Tuesday the 29th when the holiday fun presumably begins. And Mayor Arnott, perhaps you’ll want to attend, given Napier’s commitment to exactly the same system. Also, Ngahiwi Tomoana, as a champion of the system on behalf of Maori, you might consider officiating over the cleansing.
Of course, the manner in which the Hastings Council has attempted to bury the matter — by limited release of information with major community-wide significance over the holiday period — is itself a lesson in the Council’s tendency to mock transparency.
All in all, one more example of effective local government in the public interest, Hastings-style.
Stay tuned for the video coverage!