UNchecked illegal dumping attracts vermin, horrifies tourists and threatens our seas, writes Alexandra Newlove
HUNDREDS of tonnes of rubbish is building up in native Northland bush with authorities seeming to turn a blind eye.
"Pick a thing out of your head and I can guarantee it's up there," Sean Walker said, as he surveyed a piece of apparently pristine native bush at Ngaiotonga Scenic Reserve, about 20km from Russell.
He's talking about the mishmash of vacuum cleaners, washing machines, burnt-out cars, plastic bottles and rubbish sacks strewn throughout the kauri forest lauded for its scenic walking tracks.
The trash is the result of years of shameless illegal dumping which Mr Walker, local land owner, said the authorities were turning a blind eye to. However late yesterday Far North District Council (FNDC) said it would soon arrange removal of one of the biggest rubbish patches.
"You name it, it's there, the whole shebang," said fellow local Alex Clifford.
He says the rubbish creates a breeding ground for vermin, introduces exotic pest plants, turns off tourists and poses a major fire hazard. The pollution then spreads via waterways, says Mr Clifford, an oyster farmer.
"And guess what? We're not farming if we don't have clean water. All that water, it doesn't run uphill.
"Where these dumps are, you go another 2 or 3km and it's hitting the salt water."
At one of the most popular dumping sites, about halfway along the remote piece of Russell Rd which winds through the Ngaiotonga saddle, a solid mass of rubbish stretches from the roadside about 200 metres into native bush. The rubbish crosses a stream feeding the Waikare Inlet, where Murray George and his whanau gather shellfish, including freshwater crayfish further upstream.
Mr George said while the water quality at the inlet is still good, it's only a matter of time before it is polluted, as illegal dumping continues unabated.
The 200-metre-long pile is the same dumping patch which prompted Auckland woman Emma Lamont-Messer to contact the Advocate in February. She came across it while holidaying, describing it as "a truly awful sight".
At the time, Far North District Council's general manager infrastructure and asset management Jacqui Robson said the dump was being investigated, with involvement from Northland Regional Council and the Department of Conservation (DoC). Yesterday, Ms Robson said FNDC was working to find a specialist contractor who could remove the patch from the steep terrain and was expecting a price within days. The work would then be done as soon as possible.
"We have also obtained several items of evidence and will issue infringement notices to the perpetrators. We will continue to search for further evidence with a view to issuing further notices," she said.
Mr Walker said the council had known about the dumping for years and had failed to take action.
"It's in the too hard basket, but they know about it," Mr Walker said. "This is meant to be 'whoopee!' clean green New Zealand. But look at it. It's disgusting."
Mr Walker put the dumping increase down to a stricter manager at Russell's transfer station.
Whangarei District Council also cut hours at the nearby Oakura transfer station from February 2015.
Both Mr Clifford and Mr Walker agreed they would pay higher rates to contribute towards some sort of free disposal system, if it would help stop the dumping.
FNDC agreed the problem was widespread.
"This is one of a number of sites around the Far North where rubbish is being dumped illegally. Far North District Council plans to meet with relevant agencies, such as the Department of Conservation and Northland Regional Council, to develop co-ordinated strategies to deal with the problem," Ms Robson said.