Smelly issue requires teamwork

By Ross Pringle


Surely more than a few readers are finding their tolerance for stories about the dodgy wastewater treatment plant hitting a low.

There must be a point when your appetite for such matters wanes. Many will wonder at the Chronicle's continued interest in the topic.

There is a good reason this issue has been getting so much coverage. Sure, it's not exactly sexy and deals with the rather mundane and technical aspects of infrastructure.

It is institutional and hard to identify with because, in large part, the focus is on pipes and process rather than people. But it is no less important an issue because of that.

The ongoing issues with the treatment plant stand to become a major issue for our city and the ratepayers and, judging by the feedback, many in our city understand that.

Who would have thought at a time when we would all be relaxing, enjoying time with family and celebrating the festival of Christmas, we'd be seeking shelter from the rancid stench of our own waste. It doesn't exactly conjure up pleasant thoughts.

Quite aside from the issue of the smell, which is unpleasant enough, there are some major issues that need to be resolved. The problem lies with the tendency to lay blame: with the industries, the lack of monitoring of business waste, design faults.

At this point, we have a potential crisis. The smell will eventually dissipate but the issues with the plant will not go away. As Mayor Annette Main points out, it simply cannot do what is being asked of it.

Her administration has inherited this problem, as has infrastructure manager Mark Hughes. To their credit, they have focused on information and solutions not blame and recriminations.

Pointing the finger and demanding inquiries to find out who is or was at fault will not solve the problem, and that is where the focus needs to be.

To date, options have been limited by the holidays, a break which many missed out on. Spare a thought for the council workers and contractors who had to forgo their holiday and time with family to establish the cause, explain the situation, seek and implement remedies and communicate all that to residents.

The long-term options appear limited and could be extremely costly. They might include modification or extension of the plant, or developing a separate system for the wet industries whose volume of waste exceeds what can be handled.

That doesn't include alternatives like regular dredging of sludge, modification of aerators, and other techniques to improve the processes.

These and others will all need proper investigation, and that will require a collaborative approach not often seen where there are political points to be scored. For the good of the community and for the sake of minimising any potential costs to ratepayers now and in future, it is hoped that experts will be called in, listened to, and our councillors can work in unity on a solution.

Unlike when the smell wafts over the city, I won't hold my breath.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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