7 Dec 2023

‘We need to be able to breathe’: Lower Hutt residents call for stop to wastewater plant stench

From Morning Report, 7:35 am on 7 December 2023
Seaview wastewater treatment plant.

Seaview wastewater treatment plant. Photo: Google Maps

Residents in Lower Hutt are desperately hoping a "sickening" stench coming from a wastewater treatment plant will stop, following a commitment from authorities.

The smell from the non-compliant Seaview Wastewater Treatment plant has received hundreds of complaints this year.

Exasperated residents at a public meeting on Wednesday night described the smell as vomit-inducing, preventing them from enjoying their backyards and affecting their businesses.

Alex Beavis has lived on Bell Road for 12 years. She said the stink coming from the nearby Seaview wastewater treatment plant was nauseating.

“It smells like your backyard is being used as a toilet. It makes it impossible to sit outside on our deck on a nice evening, have a drink and watch the kids play.

“It’s just impossible to do. Close the windows, sit inside.”

Beavis said when she first moved to the area, there was only a slight, occasional whiff coming from the plant on a windy day.

In recent months, it's become more frequent, and unbearable on a still day.

Jaysen Eveleigh, who manages vehicle transportation business Auto Despatch, said when the stench came it was like being stuck inside a "portaloo".

When it was really bad workers couldn't eat lunch and developed headaches.

“If it was my business that was making this much smell, I would have been closed down.

“Obviously it’s a necessity, we need to have it and all that sort of stuff, but the fact of the matter is, it needs to not smell.

“We need to be able to go to work and actually breathe,” Eveleigh said. 

Over the past three years, Greater Wellington Regional Council has issued one abatement notice and eight infringement notices over the smell - totalling 7250.

These have gone to Hutt City Council, Upper Hutt City Council, Wellington Water and the plant operator Veolia New Zealand. 

Nearly 150 complaints have been lodged by members of the public this year, and Greater Wellington opened an investigation into odours coming from the plant last month.

Wellington Water’s group manager of network management, Jeremy McKibbin, said the plant's mechanism to dilute smells, called a biofilter media, was decomposing.

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Photo: RNZ / Phil Pennington

But the process to replace it, caused an even stronger stench, which hit the suburb in November.

McKibbin said this was likely to continue on and off for the next six weeks.

“We expect the work to be finished in the last part of January, and then from that point on, the odour will gradually taper off.

“But up until that point, it will be higher than it normally was during the earlier part of the year, and that’s unavoidable as we do the work.”

That was of little comfort to Allen Levien, who runs the Wellington Top 10 Holiday Park in Seaview.

He's going into his busy season now with tourists arriving from overseas.

Customer reviews have plummeted when the stench blows over to the park and he wanted the remedial work delayed.

“While they’ve been scraping away and doing [the work] it has a big impact on us.

“My attitude in [the meeting] was, why now? Seventy percent of our income comes in in the next three months.

“I’d much rather they push it out to March, April, or May.”

Lower Hutt Deputy Mayor Tui Lewis said the council was proposing to spend $13 million to improve the odour issues at the plant in the next three years.

“The concern I have is they have put up with it for a long time now, it seems a long time to them.

“It is in their houses, it is bad.”

She said the council was proposing to prioritise the work in the next three years in its draft long-term plan – which will be voted on next year.

Wainuiomata ward councillor Kerri Brown said 65-70 percent of Lower Hutt's entire rates intake went to water infrastructure, but the scale of upgrades required was stretching the capacity of the rating system.

“Every part of water [infrastructure] at the moment - storms, waste, the sewage plant renewals, they are all in desperate need of work.

“They are all at the almost break-down stage.”

Residents say they are determined to see work gets done at Seaview in the hope they will be able to open their windows and sit on their decks once again.