Ngāti Kahu, community groups and the Far North District Council have agreed to work together to come up with the best long-term options for upgrading Taipā's contentious wastewater treatment plant.
The agreement, endorsed by the Environment Court earlier this month, means the council is allowed to continue operating the plant in the short term — provided it carries out some immediate improvements such as desludging the sewage ponds.
In the longer term, within the next three years, all parties have agreed to work together to come up with the best practicable solution.
The sewage plant, located off Ryder Rd not from the rugby club grounds, serves the Doubtless Bay communities of Taipā, Mangōnui, Coopers Beach and Cable Bay.
Treated wastewater is pumped over a hill to series of settling ponds before it is discharged into a tributary of the Parapara Stream and eventually flows into the bay at Aurere.
For many years hapū and community groups have objected to the discharge of treated wastewater due to concerns about pollution of the stream and marine environment.
In 2019 Te Rūnanga-a-Iwi o Ngāti Kahu, Te Mana o te Wai Hapū Integration Roopu Charitable Trust and Clean Waters to the Sea Tokarau Moana Charitable Trust took the Northland Regional Council to the Environment Court, objecting to its decision to grant the district council a consent to continue discharging treated wastewater into Parapara Stream.
However, instead of continuing to fight through the court, the parties have agreed to work together to assess upgrade and disposal options.
The working group's aim will be to find the best practicable option for wastewater disposal with a particular focus on land-based disposal. The agreement was affirmed by Environment Court Judge Jeff Smith when he granted the consent, with conditions, on March 8.
Te Rūnanga-a-iwi o Ngāti Kahu manahautu (chief executive) Ānahera Herbert-Graves said the ''commonsense'' agreement was built on the maturing Tiriti o Waitangi relationship between hapū, iwi and council.
For 11 years iwi had been told it wasn't possible to sit down with the council and co-design a plant.
The breakthrough had been made possible by the council agreeing to high-level representation, by the chief executive, at the negotiations.
''They've gone from, 'We can't do it' to 'Why can't we do it?'''
Hapū were keeping an open mind about the long-term solution and had compromised by accepting some short-term fixes.
As a result, two very distinct constitutional arrangements were now co-designing a wastewater solution that would benefit everyone, Herbert-Graves said.
Mayor John Carter said the agreement signalled a step-change in the council's approach to working with communities and hapū.
"We're committed to working as partners to find a solution for Taipā. If the best practicable option turns out to be land-based disposal, the council will then work through the land acquisition and financial implications of that. Whatever the outcome, we've committed to a relationship that I hope will go beyond our search for a wastewater solution."
Te Mana o te Wai Hapū Integration Roopu Charitable Trust chairwoman Julie Rickit said the agreement to create a partnership working group had come after many years of kōrero with the council.
The group's immediate priority was finding and implementing short-term solutions for the existing wastewater plant.
Long-term plans included engaging with the wider community to find the best possible wastewater discharge option to avoid polluting the Doubtless Bay catchment.
The working group held its first meeting earlier this month.