A fight is brewing over who will pay the millions of dollars needed to clean up one of the country's most toxic sites.
An RNZ Insight investigation yesterday revealed plans are being drawn up to make safe the derelict Rotowaro Carbonisation Plant near Huntly.
View the full investigation into New Zealand's Most Poisoned Places
Since it shut 30 years ago the former coal products factory has fallen derelict and is now rated the country's seventh-worst toxic site.
Waikato Regional Council says two tanks of contaminated tar and water are now threatening to pollute a nearby stream, a lake and ultimately the Waikato River.
Waikato district mayor Allan Sanson, who grew up near the factory, said it was awash with water, chemicals, creosote and extracted coal chemicals, all just as if someone walked off the site and shut the gate.
The site is becoming a clean-up nightmare.
The land is owned by a man who died 80 years ago, and all negotiations have to go through the Public Trust.
The buildings are full of asbestos and toxic sludge, and are sitting in contaminated water two metres deep.
No-one has been on the site for a decade and there is gorse two metres high all around.
But the biggest challenge is likely to be its heritage status.
In the 1990s, it was given the top protection as a Category One Historic Place, meaning in principle all 26 buildings and tanks have to be kept intact while it is made safe.
Heritage New Zealand lower northern area manager Ben Pick said the plant was built in the 1930s and was the only one of its kind in the world still standing.
"Heritage doesn't mean pretty, does it? Rotowaro is not beautiful, and it's toxic, but it is hugely important," Mr Pick said.
Mr Pick said it would be a pity if it could not be seen.
He said Heritage New Zealand wanted the ruins cleaned-up and fenced off and eventually gifted to a museum or heritage group to manage.
The Waikato Regional Council, which is leading the project, has said it intends to respect the heritage listing, but does not know how the work would be funded.
But Mr Sanson does not agree with the protection and said if he had his way he would bulldoze the site.
He said he hoped the heritage people had really deep pockets.
"In the real world it doesn't work like that," Mr Sanson said.
Mr Sanson said Waikato ratepayers were not up to paying a huge amount of money to restore the site - they would pay to make it safe and that was all.
Heritage New Zealand said there were no heritage funds available, so the government would have to fund the clean-up.
But the agency said it was prepared to be practical, and would not stand in the way if the site became a threat to the environment or local people.
Environment Minister Nick Smith recently visited the site and was giving no promises.
He said Rotowaro would be one of the most complex and challenging of all toxic site clean-ups.
"The moment you go into those heritage areas, the millions of dollars clock up very fast.
"There are many, many enthusiasts, but there are not that many with big chequebooks that actually have the funding to ensure that heritage is retained," Dr Smith said.
Dr Smith said he was expecting a consultant's report in September.
Then the hard decisions would begin.