Report finds shortcomings in treatment plant

By Mark Dawson

2 comments
Kym Fell, chief executive of Whanganui District Council, at the extraordinary meeting in August to decide whether to start construction on its new wastewater treatment plant.
Kym Fell, chief executive of Whanganui District Council, at the extraordinary meeting in August to decide whether to start construction on its new wastewater treatment plant.

The long-awaited review into Whanganui's failed wastewater treatment plant has revealed "a sobering saga of shortcomings and mistakes", according to district council chief executive Kym Fell.

The review report by Robert Domm was presented to councillors yesterday morning, and Mr Fell said it showed that mistakes had cost the Whanganui community $27 million.

He added that the issues around the plant had generated much anger and anxiety among residents and damaged the district's reputation.

"The report finds that council's decision-making process in 2003 and 2004 allowed a hybrid plant design to be constructed - a plant which was untried and untested anywhere in the world, and created entirely by council staff and their consultants," Mr Fell said.

"Particularly troubling are the findings that the council was misinformed by staff, principally at critical decision-making meetings in February and November 2004, which led to incorrect decisions being made, and that known risks were downplayed by staff.

"The report also finds that cost cutting was clearly a key driver resulting in a crude, low-technology, low-cost plant that ultimately failed.

"It is appalling that the wastewater plant never fulfilled its resource consent in five years of operation from 2007 to 2012.

"While the report finds shortcomings in the actions of staff, it also highlights the need for good governance and for councillors to ask questions and require peer reviews to be presented to the Council."

Controversially, the review - a less intensive examination than the inquiry that some councillors and members of the public had wanted - focused on the period from the planning of the old plant to its total failure in 2012.

It did not address whether the old plant could be salvaged, or whether the proposed $41.2 million replacement was the best choice for Whanganui - two issues still concerning sections of the community.

Mr Fell said yesterday that there were "lessons to be learned in both council management and governance and the report contains recommendations which reflect this need".

He added: "It is encouraging that council processes under which the proposed new wastewater treatment plant has been developed are significantly more robust and have been audited and peer reviewed to ensure the new scheme is affordable, sustainable and reliable.

"Now the facts are on the table, we can move forward with building the new plant and begin to put this whole saga behind us."

-Robert Domm's full report is available at: www.whanganui.govt.nz/WWTP-Inquiry

- Wanganui Chronicle

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