The Central Hawke’s Bay District Council announced on Thursday that they were “putting on hold” their plans for a land-based “sewerage” (their spelling) treatment programme for Waipawa and Waipukurau! Here is the full announcement.

CHB just filed its consent application for this scheme at the end of 2011. The public submission window closed on 29 February, with 20 of 23 submissions filed opposing the scheme. Most questioned the viability of the land-based scheme as proposed (although not necessarily in principle).

Now CHB says it’s having second thoughts about the costs. Huh? Don’t these folks read their consent applications before filing them? Or is it that the submissions make such a compelling case that more land and pond storage is required for the system to function in an environmentally sound manner … extra capacity CHB (and/or the Regional Council) don’t want to pay for?

Along with unidentified new costs, CHB says it also will look at “an alternative sewage treatment option”.

So … understand the full scenario here.

Back in 2007 the Environment Court said CHB would need to meet tougher water quality standards by 2014. Now, five years later, CHB — apparently not well enough advised by its consultants and the Regional Council (who invented the land-based scheme) is still befuddled … with the new standards only two years out.

Maybe it’s all just a game of chicken. CHB telling the rest of the Bay (and the Government), we can’t or won’t pay for sewage treatment … what are you going to do about it?!

So, we can either admire their balls or bemoan their incompetence.

In any event, many of us submitted that the scheme, as proposed, was not sufficiently protective of the environment. Maybe there’s hope that CHB will propose something more effective. But if cost is their issue, how likely can that be?

However CHB decides to proceed, this delay surely cannot be welcome to those making other plans for the Tukituki catchment. Until there’s a reliable projection of how much effluent CHB will continue to dump into the river, there can be no agreement on how aggressively other discharges into the river must be limited … for example, the discharges of those farming the 22,000 or so additional hectares potentially made available by a dam.

And there’s a bigger picture still.

If CHB District Council can’t figure out how to meet an Environment Court clean-up standard after five years, maybe it’s simply not fit to govern. Not in the sense of wrong team (of course, that could be a problem). But in the sense of basic scale and capacity.

This is exactly what Local Government Minister Nick Smith has been talking about … are some of New Zealand’s small local bodies simply not up to the task of governing in the 21st century? That’s why Hawke’s Bay needs to be looking at its governance structure.

If CHBDC can’t afford to take the required steps to clean up its act, maybe Hawke’s Bay can’t afford CHBDC.

Tom Belford

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1 Comment

  1. I think I'll cry on this one Tom. It has to be incompetence that nothing has been decided by CHBDC after 5 years….

    I would suggest that this issue sits squarely in John Freemans lap. Has he forgotten about the increased waste to be created by the fracking oil boom (his words not mine)? This guy wants his cake and to eat it too.

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