Photographer puts town's welfare in frame

By Lin Ferguson

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Former award-winning British photo-journalist John Chapman was the man who initially raised the alarm to the Ruapehu District Council about the contaminated water in Raetihi.

Residents on the town supply had to get water from a tanker for weeks as the town supply was found to be contaminated in September.

Mr Chapman, who had just moved to Raetihi, said a strong "petrol/chemical smell" had been coming from taps and he had been initially fobbed off about the problem.

But it was discovered the contamination had been caused by a diesel spill from a disconnected pipe at Ruapehu Alpine Lifts.

Since the water crisis, Mr Chapman said he and 10 other residents had formed the executive of the Raetihi Independent Residents Group to ensure there would be always be an independent "ear" at council meetings in future.

The new group has written to council chief executive Peter Till asking specific questions about finding a safe and secure water supply for the community.

Mr Chapman said the council had said it would look at the issue next February, which was far too long a delay for such an important matter.

" We will carry out our mandate to take a full and active role in the investigation, research and decision-making processes on our town's water supply all the way."

The group has also asked for background information on how choices had been made on Raetihi's water supply.

Questions asked by the group included:

The overall annual budget for water treatment and supply in the Ruapehu District.

Breakdown of the cost for Ohakune, Raetihi and Taumarunui.

Cost figures for the final year of water treatment and supply in the district prior to the service being outsourced.

The costs and or/savings incurred to the council of outsourcing the service.

A copy of the report into the viability of spring water supply to Raetihi and Ohakune compiled by OPUS consultants.

Any more information on the water supply options being considered by the council and the reasons the council has chosen to source the town's water supply from the Makotuku River.

"We have received a reply saying the council are collating the information for us," Mr Chapman said.

"There has been a loss of faith by the community in the institutions responsible for the integrity of our water supply."

Mr Chapman has bought a lifestyle block and is building a new home on the Raetihi/Ohakune road. He said Raetihi was a great town but wasn't given the opportunities of other small towns.

"I'm amazed at how little is done for this town and its people ... they even close the library at 3pm which is not great for kids who want to go there after school."

With a special community spirit in the town, Mr Chapman is putting up his personal photographic exhibition at the local gallery, the Barbed Wire Gallery, in Seddon St on Sunday, December 1.

The exhibition, Assignments, was first shown in Auckland five years ago.

Mr Chapman, who moved to Auckland in 2007 from the US, said photography had always been in his blood and, after initially doing press photography in Virginia, he moved to Britain in his early 20s.

The main picture is his photo of Yasser Arafat, taken as the Palestinian leader addressed the United Nations general assembly in Geneva in December 1988.

"I thought it was a historic moment and ... Arafat was a charismatic figure I'd met in the early 80s in Lebanon. He carried it off well - the head scarf, the cravat, the army uniform. He wore the trappings of leadership and a chrome-plated Colt .45."

Mr Chapman said coming to live in the countryside of Waimarino was idyllic. "But there are problems that need to be addressed. But in positive vein, I'd like to organise a Raetihi Music Festival, there is so much talent in this town."

- Wanganui Chronicle

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