16 Dec 2018

Water scheme to cost 'a bigger chunk' than expected - David Parker

8:39 am on 16 December 2018

Landowners in Manawatū on sites contaminated by firefighting foam are dismayed at the big bill for a water scheme.

Minister of Economic Development David Parker. 10 April 2108

Environment Minister David Parker. Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

The estimate from the Manawatū District Council of $12.8 million is much more than Ohakea deer farmer Andy Russell expected.

It is also not clear how much the government will pay, and what will fall to landowners.

"We hadn't expected the size of the sum involved, and certainly the way Minister [David] Parker is talking, we just don't know what contribution may or may not be required."

Environment Minister David Parker said the community water scheme was coming in at "a bigger chunk of money than anyone expected".

"I haven't got any Budget authority to spend money. But we understand that the local community expect a contribution from the Crown, and I understand why there is that expectation," the minister said in a statement to RNZ.

Andy Russell, who heads a local contamination-response committee that helped with the water plans, said even if locals paid 30 percent of the share, it would be too big a burden shared by just 400 or so of them.

If they instead had to rely on drilling deeper bores - to get to clean water underneath the 5km long plume of contaminated groundwater - that would probably run into consenting obstacles due to the chemical contamination, Mr Russell said.

Horizons Regional councillor Gordon McKellar said the Defence Force contaminated the area so the government should pay.

"The clean-up fund should come out of the general taxpayer - and ongoing, 'cause as Horizons we've had to spend a lot of money testing and more testing, and that's going to be ongoing," Mr McKellar said.

The Defence Force has so far funded the bulk of the four rounds of testing that have covered the four seasons of the last 12 or so months.

Mr Parker said designing the right scale of scheme "to satisfactorily address the level of risk" was key, and happening now.

The focus was on finding a solution not apportioning blame.

"We now know what the people who came before us didn't - that PFAS is a problem. We also know enough to know that the problems in New Zealand are not as bad as they are in other countries, notably Australia."

The district and regional councils both face rising costs from the contamination by the PFAS chemical compounds. Two types, the now-banned PFOS and PFOA have been tested for, but not hundreds of others which are in the foam, including shorter chain compounds in foams that are still in use.

Thousands of tests, at several hundred dollars a pop, have been done, and multiple, hugely detailed reports done by consultants.

Mr Parker said the "All-of-Government" response would develop a framework to set out the funding, investigation and response responsibilities of the Crown, landowners and regulators.

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