John is a senior reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Sewage works plan pacifies sludge pond opponents

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Wastewater management committee chairman Rick Curach. PHOTO/FILE
Wastewater management committee chairman Rick Curach. PHOTO/FILE

Bitterness among Maori tribes over Tauranga City Council's failure to decommission a sewage sludge pond has led to a plan to develop a cultural and environmental monitoring plan for Te Maunga's wastewater treatment works.

The proposed plan found favour at this week's wastewater management committee meeting of council and tangata whenua representatives.

It followed a formal apology last month by council chief executive Garry Poole at the council's failure to meet the target to decommission the sludge pond by September 2012. He said he understood the frustration among tangata whenua and gave an undertaking the council ''would not drop the ball in the future''.

Cultural concerns included sludge seeping into Rangataua Bay which had spiked to levels close to the maximum allowable after dredging the pond had pierced the natural crust that normally held back much of the pollutants.

Engineers outlined the steps already underway to decommission the pond, with the preferred option to be recommended to the council next month. The joint wastewater management review committee did not have decision-making powers.

If the council agreed, work on the cultural and environmental monitoring plan would commence immediately, with a draft to come back to the first meeting after the elections.
The plan would be developed collaboratively with tangata whenua, with the key aim to deliver long term ''wastewater enhancement and mitigation projects''. It would be reviewed every three years.

Another proposal to solve lingering discontent among Maori members with the Environmental Mitigation and Enhancement Fund was also agreed.

The new direction would see the fund help resource the monitoring plan. It was proposed to top up the fund by $50,000 a year for the term of Te Maunga's consent to 2040, backdated to 2010. It would require total funding of $1.5 million.

The council had already anticipated boosting the fund by budgeting $50,000 this year. Decisions on which projects met the criteria for funding would be made by an independent panel. The fund currently stood at $90,000.

Committee chairman Rick Curach said the meeting had been very cordial, with all members appreciating the quality of the staff report. He said it was a contestable fund and not just a handout.

The decisions meant that tangata whenua members stepped back from the threat to review the wastewater consents for the treatment works and ocean outfall.

Tama Hovell (Nga Potiki) whose letter to the June meeting of the committee was pivotal in bringing issues to a head, said they were comfortable with the recommendations.

He said they were happy with going down the path of collaboration. It avoided the need of going through a long and costly courts process to review the consent.

Main actions of Te Maunga sewage works monitoring plan
- Investigate new technologies for wastewater treatment
- Research the cultural and environment effects of the wastewater scheme
- Develop a research partnership with the University of Waikato
- Develop a community wastewater education programme focused around Te Maunga
- Involve tangata whenua in education, sampling, testing and monitoring.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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