One Northland council has taken the rare step of serving another council with an abatement notice for breaching a sewage plant's consent conditions.
The Far North District Council has been given until November 30 to clean up treated wastewater discharged into Waitangi Forest from its Kerikeri sewage treatment plant.
The abatement notice was issued by the Northland Regional Council, which has responsibility for air and water quality, on July 24.
Colin Dall, the regional council's regulatory services manager, said the resource consent for discharging treated wastewater from the new Kerikeri treatment plan to the Waitangi Wetlands set limits on a range of contaminants.
According to the resource consent, those limits had to be met once the new plant "has been commissioned or from 1 January 2020, whichever is earlier".
However, due to delays in building Kerikeri's new sewage plant, treated wastewater was still being discharged from the old plant, which was not meeting limits set in the resource consent.
District council infrastructure manager Andy Finch said delays in completing the new wastewater treatment plant were initially caused by plan changes flagged in August 2019 and compounded by the Covid-19 lockdown earlier this year.
The two councils had worked closely to find a workable solution and agreed the new plant would start taking wastewater by November 30.
''The new plant is now complete and final commissioning is under way. The plant will begin taking wastewater on November 23, sooner than anticipated,'' he said.
Further action by the regional council, if the deadline is not met, could range from an infringement notice with a $750 fine to seeking an enforcement order from the Environment Court or prosecution.
As previously reported, the old treatment plant, located near the corner of Inlet Rd and Shepherd Rd, was built 30 years ago and well past its use-by date. It was stretched beyond its capacity even before Kerikeri's current population boom began.
The new plant, on the edge of Waitangi Forest off Shepherd Rd, will have greater capacity and newer technology but has been beset by delays.
Successive councils have put off building a new plant, with construction finally getting under way in 2019, albeit for a smaller coverage area than originally planned.
The new scheme takes in parts of the town centre that are still relying on septic tanks but leaves out the Riverview area.
The pandemic has been a factor in the delays dogging the new plant, as was a late decision to change its location. It was originally to have been built within a disused quarry.
In August last year the district council expected the plant to be complete by December 2019. By December the council said it would be finished in April 2020 but in July it was forecasting the plant would be finished by the end of September.
The most recent cost estimate, in September 2019, was $27.1 million, up from the previous $25.6m. The Ministry of Health granted a $7.3m subsidy to help build the plant, the single biggest project ever undertaken by the Far North District Council.
It's not the first time a Far North sewage plant has fallen foul of the Northland Regional Council.
Last year the regional council went even further, taking the district council to the Environment Court over its failing Paihia sewage treatment plant — three years after first issuing an abatement notice for exceeding permitted ammonia levels in treated wastewater.
The court ordered the district council to upgrade the plant, pay the regional council's costs and come up with a way to reduce ammonia levels while the upgrade was under way.
The $6m upgrade was completed in March 2020, two months ahead of the deadline set by the court.
Councils are generally reluctant to take each other to court because one group of ratepayers end up having to pay out another group of ratepayers.