Avoiding "shock" sewage events like that seen in Wellington late last year were front of mind at a Rotorua Lakes Council meeting on Tuesday.
The council voted to refer council officers' "Sewerage and Sewage - establishing a stable, reliable and safe network" proposal document to public consultation.
The document proposes the council enter into a contract with a consortium of Trility, Fulton Hogan and Stantec for the provision of wastewater services across the district.
Trility is owned by Hong Kong-based investment holding company Beijing Enterprises Water Group, having acquired it in 2018.
"This is expected to better address known service challenges while also maintaining and retaining full council ownership of the assets, full council control of funding for the service and decision making on levels of service," the proposal stated.
A "lengthy review" of wastewater services had been undertaken and a two-year competitive procurement process had identified the consortium - referred to as "Trility" - as the preferred service provider.
That was one option in the report, but it also offered two others: continue to deliver wastewater services based on current practice or "do nothing".
Speaking to the proposal at the meeting, infrastructure manager Stavros Michael said the aim of the proposal was, in part, to avoid "shock" events such as that in Wellington last year.
In December, five million litres of wastewater and raw sewage poured into Wellington harbour when a pipe burst.
The event had so far cost the Wellington City Council $25 million.
Michael said the "do nothing" approach was "not an option".
The proposal said that option did not address any of the issues "that face the service right at this time".
Seven challenges were identified in the document, including an aging network, population growth, evolving compliance obligations, climate change and cost uncertainty.
The preferred option was to enter into a 10-year contract with Trility, beginning in the 2020/2021 financial year, the report said.
The value of the contract was $156 million.
Councillor Merepeka Raukawa-Tait said she felt "a degree of unease" about the proposal, though she was glad it would go to public consultation.
"There is a removal of local oversight I believe.
"One day … we may have highly skilled contract managers but very [few] people who actually know how to operate our network system who are actually local, and that's a concern for me.
"Over the years … where there's been the disestablishment of one organisation, or something brought in, or outsourced, when we see and hear that jobs will be provided ... that from my experience, that has rarely happened.
"It will do the job, I suspect, that we want of it, but in 10 years time, when that contract is up, it will basically be, from the contractor … 'take it or leave it, we've got the skills, we've got the knowledge'.
"Basically we'll just have to tick the box on the renewal of the next contract."
Mayor Steve Chadwick said the council had inherited "a bit of a basket case" of infrastructure in 2013.
"We needed to have a different approach to look at how we would manage this network.
She said she did not have Raukawa-Tait's concerns and was interested to see "where this could go" for the rest of the country.
The council also voted to put the 2020/21 Annual Plan out for public consultation. Both can be found on the council website.