22 Nov 2018

Mayor promises fix for leaking Franz Josef sewage ponds

8:50 am on 22 November 2018

Westland's mayor is confident an upgrade of Franz Josef's sewage ponds will be done in time to meet a deadline imposed by the Environment Court.

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Franz Josef's sewage has only been partially treated since 2016 after the town's ponds were badly damaged when the Waiho River burst its banks and infiltrated them. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

The ponds were at the centre of a Serious Fraud Office investigation into the council's former operations manager, who oversaw the awarding of a $7 million contract to build a new treatment plant to a company headed by an Auckland cake decorator.

The town's ponds were badly damaged in 2016 when the Waiho River burst its banks and infiltrated them.

Ever since they have only been partially treating Franz Josef's sewage, leaving the council in breach of its consent and prompting a court imposed deadline of April next year to bring them up to scratch.

Sarah Gibb managed a company offering quad bike trips in the bed of the Waiho River.

She said smelly overflowing sewage ponds were not the best look for a town sitting on the edge of a national park that relied on its clean green image to attract visitors.

"Obviously for us it's super important because we don't want to be driving through raw sewage because we use that area a lot. We use all around it so we don't want any leaks or anything."

Ms Gibb said the $2m upgrade that would see extra ponds built alongside the existing ones was long overdue.

"We're very very grateful ... that means we can go back to running our trips as normal because we had to avoid that area because it was leaking right down and it made trips very difficult."

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Craig Rankin said Franz Josef's old sewage ponds were struggling to cope. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

Motelier and head of business group Franz Inc, Craig Rankin, said with tourism growth of 20 percent per-annum over the past three years, the old sewage ponds were struggling to cope, especially at the peak of the season when the town could play host to up to 6000 visitors a day.

"There are a lot of investors looking to come to town which is great news. But we need some of this infrastructure sorted out before people are willing to commit."

The $2m plan to expand the existing scheme was a downgrade on the $7m plant the previous council controversially opted for, hiring a company headed by an Auckland cake decorator to do the work.

The new mayor, Bruce Smith, said the more expensive scheme was unaffordable and while the cheaper one would not be perfect, it would do the job.

And he had faith in the council-owned company, Westroads, that had been awarded the contract to do the work, including installing aerators to reduce the smell.

"The completion date is the end of March 2019, we hope it will be earlier, but that's the intended target, because we do have an Environment Court order at the present time where it has to be up and running by April [2019]. We're confident we'll meet that."

Mr Smith was confident a new $1.3m wall would keep the Waiho River from infiltrating the ponds again.

"The rock wall that's being constructed is 10 metres wide. It is amazing... I guess saying this on national radio is always dangerous, but that rock wall will be there long after anything else."

Mr Smith was thankful to the government's Tourism Infrastructure Fund for bank rolling the upgrade of the ponds and said lumping this cost on to local residents would have been unfair.

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