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Sewage spill once again threatens harbour

The Waikato District Council does not have any ready answers as to why yet another sewage spill occurred in Raglan over the weekend.

Just a month after being fined for a large sewage spill into Raglan Harbour last year, the council was investigating an overflow from a wastewater reticulation pump station manhole in Wainui Road, opposite Marine Parade, on Sunday.

The council confirmed the wastewater was untreated sewage and it was assumed that some of it may had gone into the harbour because of the proximity of the manhole to the water.

WDC service delivery general manager Tim Harty said the public was asked to refrain from collecting seafood, fishing or swimming in the area until further notice.

“We are collecting samples from the harbour to ensure e-coli levels are at a safe enough level for recreational use,” he said.

The incident was not linked to the discharge of about five million litres of partially treated sewage into the estuary at Raglan’s wastewater treatment plant in June last year, the council said.

Last month the council was fined $56,250 for the 2013 discharge, which was the result of an overflowing treatment pond. It caused contaminant to flow past the local boat ramp and camping ground and over shellfish beds.

The council were advised of Sunday’s overflow by a local resident about 9am and responded immediately to stop the overflow and clean up the site.

“It is estimated that the overflow occurred for approximately 16 hours, however the quantity of wastewater discharged is still being determined,” Tim said.

Iwi, the Waikato Regional Council and the Waikato District Health Officer were notified immediately and signage was erected in the harbour as a precaution.

The cause of the overflow was not yet known, he said. The district and regional councils were working together to prepare a detailed report and recommended actions which should be completed by the end of the week.

However, Whaingaroa Harbour Care manager Fred Lichtwark questioned whether council did in fact know there was a problem at the manhole, as a waste truck and service crew had been at the site for several days beforehand.

Fred said the council had handled the latest spill badly and had not fully informed the community about the problem, as it had promised after the 2013 spill.

There was only one sign at the one-way bridge to Raglan West warning people against swimming and taking shellfish or fish from the harbour, and there were no signs at the boat ramp or by the museum, where people often collected shellfish.

Another sign was spotted at the manhole site, which was down some steps from the footpath and not visible to motorists.

“Are they [the council] really taking the concerns of the community seriously?,” he asked. “What’s wrong with notifying everyone else?”

Fred said he was offered some locally-caught shellfish on Sunday by a local who was not aware of the possible contamination.

The council said the pump station was currently being upgraded as part of a district wide project to upgrade the wastewater reticulation system.

“Any personnel or work vehicles on site prior to the event were contributing to the upgrade, not trying to fix any problems,” the council said.

The council denied the lack of communication, saying council staff phoned or emailed key stakeholders in the community including marae representatives, the information centre and local radio over the initial 24-hour period.

“Because of the timing of the event we also took advantage of social media to distribute the information as quickly as possible. Additional information has since been shared with other interested parties.”

The Hamilton District Court prosecution was initiated under the Resource Management Act by the Waikato Regional Council, which was effectively the watchdog for any discharges into the environment, following an investigation.

A lack of communication by the council was highlighted by Judge David Kirkpatrick as a problem that “seriously aggravated the offending”.

Regional council programme manager infrastructure Hugh Keane thought the WDC communication had improved and it had acted promptly when notified about the pump station failure.

He said while the sewage discharge had been unauthorised, it was too early to say what action the WRC might take. Like any piece of machinery, there could be mechanical problems with pump stations at times.

Rachel Benn

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