The sewage spill into the harbour estuary near Marine Parade over the Easter weekend cost businesses lost revenue and the town its reputation, says a representative of Raglan Chamber of Commerce.
Untreated wastewater – 10 cubic metres, according to the Waikato District Council – entered the Raglan harbour around 8pm on Easter Friday, after the main inlet pipe to the Marine Parade pump station collapsed.
A temporary solution to pump wastewater was put in place, with contractors working overnight.
The council put up signs advising people not to swim or collect shellfish, pertaining to the entire harbour, and the ban was still in place this week.
Karioi Lodge owner Charlie Young, who also owns harbour cruise boat the Wahine Moe and is a member of the Raglan Chamber of Commerce, says the sewage spill meant a loss of business to the Raglan community, “no doubt about it”.
“Heaps of people come to Raglan just to get out on the water.
“Speaking to a few people out and about on the weekend, there was quite a lot of disappointment from those who came into Raglan because they couldn’t do stuff.
“I know for a fact that people pulled out early because they couldn’t use the harbour.
“There was a big exit on Sunday, and even on Saturday.
“It was really quiet on one of the days. It wasn’t as robust as you usually would see it.”
Mr Young says he thinks the spill is bad for Raglan’s brand.
“Raglan prides itself on being environmentally-minded … and to have that come and slam it in the face, it was a shocker, really. It undoes a lot of hard work that people do.”
Mr Young says cancellations of events at the Raglan wharf on Saturday, because of the sewage spill, indirectly affected business on the Wahine Moe.
“More people would have booked on that night.”
Raglan Fish owner Mark Mathers cancelled the PlaceMakers Fishing Contest for children, which was part of the Raglan Seafood Fiesta at the wharf on Saturday. The fiesta included smoked fish demonstrations, face painting, live music and an evening cruise.
Mr Mathers says the sewage spill would have affected thousands of dollars in turnover for marine-based businesses, and that their drop in customers would have had a flow-on effect in town.
He says the spill cost him in advertising, sponsorship, free ice creams and drinks for the kids, live music at the wharf, and a lot of time and effort that went into planning the event.
“PlaceMakers put in a cash contribution. How do we get that back? How do we get sponsors next year?”
The sewage spill made for a flat day at the wharf, he says. “Even the shop wasn’t good. There was a flow-on through town.”
Mr Mathers says council should be liable for costs and loss of income.
“The council talks it down, too, says it wasn’t much.”
But 10 cubic metres is a substantial amount of wastewater, he says.
“I hear comments from people (who were) a long way away from it, that they could smell it.
“They (WDC) will get a fine but there is no winning, ratepayers have to pay for it.”
It’s not the first time wastewater has spilled into the harbour in Raglan, and there have been many calls for the council to improve its sewerage system to accommodate the growing tourist town.
The site of the latest spill is just metres from where council contractors are putting in two new overflow wastewater storage tanks on the corner of Nihinihi Ave and Marine Parade.
In August 2014, untreated sewage flowed into the Raglan harbour from a pump station manhole in Wainui Rd – just a month after the council was fined $56,250 for a 2013 discharge, which also contaminated the harbour near the Kopua Domain.
Mr Young agrees that there has to be some level of responsibility.
“If it was a one-off thing, sure, but you start looking at the series of events.
“I tip my hat off to the workers, though. Without them we would have had a complete write-off. They all worked their arses off overnight.”
The council is also copping criticism for its handling of the spill.
Raglan Paddleboarding owners Keith Jarmey and Justine Quarrell, who had heaps of no-shows in their fully-booked weekend schedule, say the worst thing is that they found out about the sewage spill from a national paper.
Ms Quarrell says if people hadn’t read the information in a newspaper or online then there was no way they would have known.
“There were people in the water and no-one was telling them to get out.
“They didn’t seem to control it very well.”
The couple still operated on the harbour during the weekend but well away from the inlet near Marine Parade.
Raglan Kayak owners Steve and Candide Reid, who also had many cancellations because of the sewage spill, say they were given absolutely no information that it had happened, and WDC councillor Clint Baddeley also criticised the lack of signs warning of the health risk.
Mr Baddeley says there was one sign by the boat ramp and another by the footbridge but they weren’t big enough, and council has to do better than that.
“The message came through other channels,” he says.
He says the sewage leak was totally disappointing.
“It’s embarrassing but what can you do?
“The contractors are putting in a main storage unit to avoid such situations, but doing the earthworks created a situation where the pipe that feeds into the system collapsed.”
He says the length of time and extent of the swimming ban was to err on the side of caution, even though most of the waste was confined to the estuary and would have gone out with the next high tide.
He says the council expects water tests will have cleared the Raglan harbour as safe for swimming by the time this paper goes to print.
“Usually it’s three days (for a ban) but in this situation it is five,” he says, with the hold-up due to the long weekend and getting water samples to the lab.
Mr Baddeley says he did not think the sewage spill affected business in the town during Easter.
Waikato District Council service delivery general manager Tim Harty says it is hoped that the warning signs against swimming and collecting shellfish will be lifted by this weekend.
He says the exact cause of the failure has not yet been established but a report will be made available once it has been completed.
Mr Harty says the site at the Nihinihi Ave-Marine Parade intersection, where work is currently taking place, transfers all the wastewater collected in Raglan to the treatment plant, and has been known to omit an odour.
He says council has also installed new wastewater storage in Nero St, and there are various asset renewals regarding Raglan’s sewerage-wastewater system planned for in the Long Term Plan adopted in 2015.