Concern water plan would lead to river discharge ban

Time frame short for consent process

Time frame short for consent process

THE controversial emergency discharges of wastewater into city rivers could become a prohibited activity under the regional freshwater plan if staff recommendations are not changed, commissioners hearing submissions on the plan were told yesterday.

Counsel for the council’s water utilities department Rachael Boyle said it would not be possible to complete the $26 million upgrade of the wastewater system by the target date of 2020, when it was hoped a resource consent would be obtained. At that point the council could be liable to prosecution, the five commissioners were told on the second day of submissions on the water quality section of the plan.

The department was participating in the hearing to ensure there was a realistic and balanced approach to the city’s essential public wastewater and stormwater systems in the proposed freshwater plan, she told them. The ongoing operation of these systems was vital to the health and wellbeing of the community. They could not stop operating. However, the issues would not be able to be eliminated in the short to medium term and overflows would still occur.

Section 42 concern

The department was concerned about the recommendation in the Section 42 report that would see what was proposed as a non-notified and controlled resource consent process for the emergency overflows become a fully publicly-notified restricted discretionary activity process.

The real concern for the department was that the changes might impact on its ability to have a consent in place by mid-2020 as required. If a consent was not in place by then, any discharge would be prohibited.

The section 42 report said it was unclear if full elimination was feasible and highlighted the difficult public health tension in the decision to allow wastewater to back up and flow over people’s property or to discharge into the water bodies. This was by no means an ideal state of affairs. But it was the reality of the situation faced by Gisborne and other councils in New Zealand, she said.

Consent needed for July 1, 2020

The commissioners were told the over-arching concern for the department was to have a consent in place by July 1, 2020. If it did not have a consent, then any emergency discharge to land or water, which the department was simply unable to avoid, would be prohibited. In those circumstances the department could face enforcement action taken by the council or any other person.

Counsel for the council’s water utilities department Rachael Boyle said while 2020 might seem a long time away, by the time the department was able to undertake assessments of any overflows, consult as necessary, set objectives for management and ensure funding was in place, it could loom large.

It might be 2019 before the department was even in a position to lodge a consent application. With a full public process with possible appeals, particularly where consent could be declined, the department could find itself dangerously close to the July 1 deadline.

A more restrictive activity status sought

Several submitters, including district council staff, had sought more restrictive activity status imposed on the emergency wastewater overflow application. The department acknowledged the concerns of the community and their desire for the overflows to be addressed. However, public concern or interest was not sufficient reason to require an application to be publicly notified.

The reporting officer was clearly trying to make an effort to compromise with submitters and reach a middle ground. However that attempt to compromise had resulted in a recommended approach that was not the most appropriate way to manage the emergency overflows.

The department was well aware of the concerns of the community and tangata whenua and its opposition to the proposed changes was not intended to undermine those concerns in any way. The department was committed to working alongside the community in a collaborative manner to reduce the occurrence of emergency overflows over time, she said.

THE controversial emergency discharges of wastewater into city rivers could become a prohibited activity under the regional freshwater plan if staff recommendations are not changed, commissioners hearing submissions on the plan were told yesterday.

Counsel for the council’s water utilities department Rachael Boyle said it would not be possible to complete the $26 million upgrade of the wastewater system by the target date of 2020, when it was hoped a resource consent would be obtained. At that point the council could be liable to prosecution, the five commissioners were told on the second day of submissions on the water quality section of the plan.

The department was participating in the hearing to ensure there was a realistic and balanced approach to the city’s essential public wastewater and stormwater systems in the proposed freshwater plan, she told them. The ongoing operation of these systems was vital to the health and wellbeing of the community. They could not stop operating. However, the issues would not be able to be eliminated in the short to medium term and overflows would still occur.

Section 42 concern

The department was concerned about the recommendation in the Section 42 report that would see what was proposed as a non-notified and controlled resource consent process for the emergency overflows become a fully publicly-notified restricted discretionary activity process.

The real concern for the department was that the changes might impact on its ability to have a consent in place by mid-2020 as required. If a consent was not in place by then, any discharge would be prohibited.

The section 42 report said it was unclear if full elimination was feasible and highlighted the difficult public health tension in the decision to allow wastewater to back up and flow over people’s property or to discharge into the water bodies. This was by no means an ideal state of affairs. But it was the reality of the situation faced by Gisborne and other councils in New Zealand, she said.

Consent needed for July 1, 2020

The commissioners were told the over-arching concern for the department was to have a consent in place by July 1, 2020. If it did not have a consent, then any emergency discharge to land or water, which the department was simply unable to avoid, would be prohibited. In those circumstances the department could face enforcement action taken by the council or any other person.

Counsel for the council’s water utilities department Rachael Boyle said while 2020 might seem a long time away, by the time the department was able to undertake assessments of any overflows, consult as necessary, set objectives for management and ensure funding was in place, it could loom large.

It might be 2019 before the department was even in a position to lodge a consent application. With a full public process with possible appeals, particularly where consent could be declined, the department could find itself dangerously close to the July 1 deadline.

A more restrictive activity status sought

Several submitters, including district council staff, had sought more restrictive activity status imposed on the emergency wastewater overflow application. The department acknowledged the concerns of the community and their desire for the overflows to be addressed. However, public concern or interest was not sufficient reason to require an application to be publicly notified.

The reporting officer was clearly trying to make an effort to compromise with submitters and reach a middle ground. However that attempt to compromise had resulted in a recommended approach that was not the most appropriate way to manage the emergency overflows.

The department was well aware of the concerns of the community and tangata whenua and its opposition to the proposed changes was not intended to undermine those concerns in any way. The department was committed to working alongside the community in a collaborative manner to reduce the occurrence of emergency overflows over time, she said.

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Manu Caddie - 3 years ago
It sounds like the utilities department is full of tutae when they say they are "well aware of the concerns of the community and tangata whenua and its opposition to the proposed changes was not intended to undermine those concerns in any way" - the proposed changes directly undermine those concerns and show how insincere the claims of a commitment to working alongside the community in a collaborative manner really are.

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