Lesley Wilson’s daughter stands amidst the mountains of flood debris.

For Pukepatu orchardist and winemaker Lesley Wilson, dealing with the waste deposited on her family’s property – at a rough calculation, hundreds of thousands of tonnes of wood and silt – in the way the authorities would like is unrealistic and a near impossible feat.

The immediacy of the need to clean up properties coupled with the sheer scale of the waste problem is inevitably rubbing up against efforts to ensure flood waste, some of which is contaminated, is separated and disposed of safely and responsibly.

No small feat

Wilson had 40 hectares of apples and 3ha of grapes, much of which is now gone.

“We are left to do it ourselves and obviously this is not of our making. Under normal circumstances we follow the rules by the rule book but … the damage is so enormous. We need to get this land to be productive as quickly as possible, so we’d like an exemption for this time, please,” she said.

Her Twitter post put it more bluntly: “They need to throw the rule book away in these circumstances. In fact, we need a supplementary rule book titled, ‘What we do when everything’s F&$ked’.”

Wilson’s Twitter posts document a heartbreaking story of escaping from the flood with their lives but losing their entire year’s income. They were ready to harvest their apple orchards when the cyclone hit. And now, her family is left with a clean-up of epic proportions.

Wilson wants permission to burn the waste in due course. Right now, it’s still wet and mixed with organic matter and so would wait until it can burn more cleanly. 

It’s not practical or safe to go through it all piece by piece, even with large machinery and so they would burn tanalised posts and galvanised wire as part of any burn, she said. 

They were in the direct path of one of the first stop bank breaches and as such there are a lot of very large logs, pine debris, willow and whatever else was around. “It took us two weeks to find a Nissan Navara underneath all that,” she said.

And unlike many other properties who were already tackling the silt, Wilson said they had not even begun to get to that yet, because the debris on their property was so extensive.

“We do need help with the remediation. Basically, we were just about to pick that block and we’ve lost the whole lot and then we have to replant sections at around $250,000/ha, and I’m afraid $40,000 [in government support] doesn’t go too far.”

Along with an exemption to burn the mixed waste, she is pleading with government for comprehensive assistance.

What are the rules?

Regional Council has set out processes for dealing with various waste streams and is working with territorial authorities to coordinate the response, particularly with regards to silt.

Regulation and Policy Group Manager Katrina Brunton said HBRC had identified several waste types which were being dealt with in different ways.

“Our preference is to keep waste types separate wherever possible so that we can minimise the amounts of mixed waste that end up in our already overloaded landfill sites. The types of identified waste are: animal (livestock) carcass retrieval and disposal, silt, wood debris, posts and wire, hazardous chemicals/materials and mixed waste.”

Brunton said that in situations where trees, flood debris and orchard infrastructure had been flung together into a heap by the force of water, some landowners had already begun to clear their land into large piles.

“There have been inquiries from landowners to allow them to burn these waste piles. While clean and dry vegetation and wood debris can be disposed of via burning through existing regulatory frameworks, the mixed waste contains products that may contaminate the environment and /or produce serious health risks and effects if burnt,” she said.

Under the Regional Resource Management Plan, it is prohibited to burn certain types of waste in the open such as treated timber and canalised posts, as well as things like wire and synthetic material, and the National Environmental standards for air quality also restricts burning certain materials.

Advice from the Science and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) supported the council’s approach not to allow burning of prohibited items in mixed cyclone waste, she said.

The rational for this is so that ongoing environmental problems aren’t created.

Silt across the Heretaunga Plains had been tested and not found to be significantly contaminated with horticultural chemicals, animal waste, oil or diesel, which means silt can be removed and stored at appropriate sites safely.

Much of the wood waste would be collected and sent to Whakatu where it would be chipped and stockpiled, Bruton said.

“For other types of waste that has ended up on properties, our ambition is to separate waste but we acknowledge that scale and pace will be important and we are working with industry to achieve this and find practical solutions to the waste issues,” she said.

BayBuzz understands that there has been internal debate amongst local officials over allowing burning of mixed waste. 

The state of emergency for Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti ended on Tuesday and the region has entered the recovery phase, meaning the decision now falls to Regional Councillors.

Public interest journalism funded by New Zealand on Air.


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  1. If the wood can be chipped for future use as mulch, why cannot it be turned into firewood for those who cannot afford the price of wood for heating their home (providing it is not contaminated)?

  2. You face an enormous task, and many would just walk away I wonder if you can get some useful information to help with the clean-up from elsewhere in the world where these sorts of disasters are more common. I think it is unrealistic for the Government to expect you to cope on your own I wish I could help you, but I am 80yrs old and not really fit enough to offer much help. Good luck

  3. I certainly hope the council has been supplying diggers and drivers to help clear your disaster zone. Perhaps it can be bulldozed onto their stop bank to increase the height! What a disaster of more than epic proportions! No one in a lifetime of endeavours could ever be capable or separating wire from that entanglement! I know as i have wire and standard fences down under somewhere too. Insanity prevails! My deepest sympathy for your loss. That is like a death in the family! So sad. Kia kaha.

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