Nature Calls turns out to be Palmerston North's biggest public consultation in many years.
As the city needs to come to grips with how it will dispose of wastewater in the next 35 years it has developed six options to consult on.
Public submissions are in and they show the town is divided. Of the 1109 people and organisations who submitted a response, 304 picked option 3: a 97 per cent discharge to land, while 302 chose option 1: full discharge to the river, with much improved phosphorous and nitrogen treatment. Option 2 and 4 were within 10-50 votes of these two, the council said.
Palmerston North mayor Grant Smith is quoted as saying, "The results show our residents care equally about the environment but also the practical costs.
"During consultation people were concerned that by detailing potential costs for the options, the cheapest option would be by far the most popular choice. However, the most popular option from consultation is also the most expensive option, and the second preferred was the cheapest option identified. This shows that our community has a range of different values that matter to them."
The council, key partners and stake holders, are now working on assessments from a range of technical reports that have been prepared. These options will be scored for a range of criteria and then ranked.
Further consultation will take place once this is done and more information will be provided on the impact on river health, the nature of the current wastewater treatment and discharge as well as the effects of the current discharge on the river's water quality and ecology.
Not only the town's residents will be asked for an opinion, but wider consultation with Manawatu and Horowhenua and iwi are on the cards.
"During the initial stages of this project when we were still considering all potential options for treating and discharging wastewater, our city mana whenua Rangitane were involved.
"While we had some initial conversations with neighbouring iwi, following confirmation of a shortlist of options, and a better understanding of the receiving environments, we are now actively engaging with iwi with interests in the potentially affected receiving environments," the council said this week.
Palmerston North City Council is hoping to make the final decision in early 2021 and expects to apply for resource consents before June 2022.
The options range between continued river discharge or land-based discharge, or a hybrid of both, although one option on the table involves pumping the wastewater through a 2km undersea pipe directly into the Tasman Sea.
Land-based disposal would require purchasing property between 2000 and 3500 hectares, although no area of land had been earmarked as a potential site yet.
The project will have a significant impact on PNCC ratepayers. It had $128.8 million set aside in a 10-year Long-Term Plan for a new wastewater solution, but realistic estimates have the cost pegged far higher.
The decision would have significant impacts on PNCC debt levels and its rates would be increasing accordingly. Residents currently paid $253 for wastewater services each year, with future increases of around $300-$900 per home.
The six options consulted on ranged in cost between $264m and $765m. Price could influence ratepayers though, as a price tag in the form of a potential rate increase was attached to each option in the consultation document.
Mayor Smith said at the time, unfortunately, it isn't an optional project.
Horowhenua residents have made their view plain during meetings in Levin, Foxton and Shannon, believing that this decision in important for all river users and downstream communities.
Smith said during a meeting in Levin that it was important to hear from residents from Horowhenua, too. Any land-based discharge option would impact Horowhenua as PNCC has no suitable land within it boundaries.
"Ideally, we'd be able to treat and discharge our wastewater within our own boundaries, but the land we need is just too significant," he said.
"While Palmerston North residents will be paying for this service, we want to make sure Horowhenua and Manawatu residents also get a say, and we'd urge them to give feedback. This decision will affect us and future generations for up to 35 years. Please make sure your voice is heard."
The average Palmerston North resident creates around 210 litres of wastewater a day and the city's population was growing.