The Raglan Community Board has asked for an emergency meeting with council representatives next time a sewage spill occurs in Raglan, in the aftermath of the Good Friday spill.
Waikato District Council (WDC) representatives appeared at the board’s monthly meeting on Tuesday to discuss the spill and its repercussions. A lack of communication and signage were the key areas of concern raised by board members, with the Raglan wastewater system’s capacity also questioned.
“The community board were in the dark [after the spill]. There was a lack of information. We feel we were not considered a key player and we want that to change,” Alan told WDC general manager service delivery Tim Harty.
An estimated 30 cubic metres of untreated wastewater entered the Raglan Harbour on March 25 at the Marine Parade pump station in Nihinihi Ave, prompting a ban on taking fish and seafood in the area. The public was also advised not to swim in the harbour over the busy Easter holiday period.
The warning against swimming was lifted a week later, but the harbour was not cleared for fishing until April 1 and warning signs to prevent the taking of seafood were scheduled to remain in place until April 24.
The Waikato Regional Council is conducting an investigation into the spill. The WDC’s detailed report into the spill is due at the end of the month.
Tim told the board the primary cause of the spill appeared to be the failure of a pipe between the pump station and a storage vessel.
There was no lack of physical response at the time of the spill when the council was notified at 7.45pm that night. About 15 staff responded within 15 minutes, and had stopped the spill about an hour later, he said.
“It is not something we want to happen. But with any wastewater plant, it is a risk that sits there. It is not something you can completely mitigate,” he said.
Board members were critical about the lack of communication with key interested parties and the lack of decent-sized signs warning the public not to swim or take seafood from the harbour at that time.
“We need someone to come out here and flood the town with signs: ‘the kai is poisoned’,” said board member Boyd Dixon.
Tim acknowledged the council could have done better in the communication and signage areas, and agreed to try and remedy this in future.
“This is not the first [sewage] spill… you’ve had the ability to learn this on previous occasions, in all fairness,” said fellow board member Peter Haworth.
Alan tried to stress the council’s comments in its interim report, that the condition and capacity of the Raglan wastewater network was good and not an issue.
The report noted that the December 2016 50-year wastewater strategy “highlighted concerns with resource consent compliance for both suspended solids and pathogens, however recent work undertaken has addressed both these matters, to a degree”.
“There are still some residual risks around consistently meeting these compliance levels. Flow into the RWWTP can be high, however the plant balances flows well and the discharge volumes generally meet consent requirements,” it said.
However, several board members challenged Alan for dismissing the capacity and condition issues.
“Just thinking about this spill and wondering if the [Raglan wastewater] system can cope with all the new development… how can we guarantee we won’t have big spills when we have more homes plugging into the system?” board member Lisa Thomson asked.
Raglan’s wastewater capacity is obviously a concern to the community, with the issue prompting resident Jocelyn Hartstone to start a petition calling for the council to reverse the decision made by independent commissioners to allow the Rangitahi Peninsula development to connect to the town’s wastewater system.
Waikato District Council says it cannot legally overturn this decision, and there is “adequate capacity” in the sewage system to accommodate the 500-lot development.
The petition, which can be signed in the Trade Aid shop, states: “We want Rangitahi Peninsula development to have a separate land-based water system as first proposed in the original resource consent application”.
Mrs Hartstone says the petition is in response to the Good Friday , and that “wastewater contamination occurs too often” in Raglan.
There has been numerous wastewater spills in Raglan’s harbour over the years – about two wastewater spills every year according to council records – and numerous calls for council to upgrade its wastewater system so that it can cope with the swell in visitor numbers.