What is it about Napier City Council that causes it to be so defensive when it is challenged?
That council's first response regarding discharges of stormwater and/or sewerage into the Ahuriri Estuary is to excuse it because they are "at a lower rate than other councils" should cause alarm bells to ring for the people of Napier.
That's because basing its response to what is a local issue on what other councils are not doing is both shallow and uninspiring.
I'm with HBRC councillor Neil Kirton on this one. It is simply not good enough. We deserve better. Thankfully it would seem some of our elected representatives actually get the significance of the consequences of continued discharges of our waste into the estuary. NCC councillor Kirsten Wise has described the situation as "unacceptable" and I agree with her on this point.
Following the discharge event in April 2017 I was prepared to accept that NCC had found the discharge to be as unacceptable as I did.
At the time what I was looking for was a commitment to stop it happening in future. Therefore I was prepared to await the outcome of NCC's Long Term Plan deliberations to see how staunch its resolve was.
It would also be fair to say that given the way NCC has managed other issues such as the velodrome and the renaming of the War Memorial my trust in NCC to achieve any positive outcome for Ahuriri Estuary had been sorely tested.
I get that emergency discharges to protect public health are allowed under the Resource Management Act.
I get that the current discharges have been decades in the making due to underinvestment in infrastructure maintenance. I get that stopping the discharges will not be cheap or easy. I get that every territorial authority faces similar challenges which is placing pressure on the availability of suitably qualified staff to deal with the issue. I also get that the Government's discussions around dealing with the future direction of three waters management is creating some uncertainty as to what responsibilities councils will ultimately have. In other words I get that it's a big challenge.
But given rising public expectations around protecting our environment it would be much more reassuring to see NCC acknowledge that the discharges are unacceptable and that fixing this issue will be its highest priority. I don't really care how we rate compared to other councils. That's their challenge to deal with. We have ours.
I believe the rate-paying public deserves to know NCC's plans to stop discharges of stormwater/sewerage into the Estuary. Whilst it is true that $20.6 million over 10 years has been approved in NCC's Long Term Plan what is not clear is what this money is going to be spent on, when is this money going to be spent, and what are the expected outcomes? To put is bluntly, what is the plan? From what I can see the funding seems to be spread out on different projects all over the place. This makes it very difficult to reach an understanding that what is being proposed is sufficient. Hopefully NCC could enlighten us on these points in a clear and transparent manner.
As for urgency, some $5m seemed to be found overnight to repair McLean Park and have the work completed at some haste. Why can't a similar approach be taken with our stormwater and sewerage issues? I'm aware that NCC hasn't got a Harry Potter wand that allows this issue to be magicked away overnight but I do want to see them taking it seriously, and not try and deflect the issue by simply thinking it's all right because we are nowhere near as bad as everywhere else. It's time for NCC to be open and transparent, not defensive.
Finally, whilst it's easy to knock NCC for not doing the right thing, we ratepayers also have a part to play in this.
I believe we need to acknowledge that we understand the costs involved and that these would likely have some effect on our rates bill. We need to be prepared to support NCC if it makes its plans clear and transparent. We need to be confident that every dollar is being spent wisely.
I just don't think we are there yet. I only hope that we will be, sooner rather than later.
* Paul Bailey is a Hawke's Bay regional councillor