28 May 2019

West Coast clean up proves too costly for council

9:11 am on 28 May 2019

Work to clean up landfill rubbish strewn along the West Coast is being axed by the local council for the time being because it cannot afford to continue with the work.

West Coast rubbish spill

Volunteers picking up the deluge of rubbish are predicting it'll take years to clean up the mess. Photo: Facebook / South Westland Coastal Cleanup

Flooding in late March washed out roads and bridges and also ripped open the Fox River dump and spilled its contents.

Volunteers picking up the deluge of rubbish swept down the Fox River are predicting it'll take years to clean up the mess.

But, two months into the clean-up, RNZ understands the Westland District Council has told contractors that Friday will be their last day.

Mayor Bruce Smith said the storm had cost the council $1.1 million so far.

"If we're going to repair our roads and all the other bits and pieces we just can't continue to commit unbudgeted expenditure. Even at the moment, we're looking up until the 20th of May we're looking at a 13 percent rate increase and our ratepayers can't afford it."

While contracted efforts on the ground would stop, he said planning would continue with Department of Conservation for the cleanup, and they would refocus on getting road repairs underway.

"We have a fiscal responsibility to act sensibly and we've still got roads that aren't opened. We've got to work our way through that."

The government has previously allocated an extra $400,000 towards the clean-up and flood recovery.

However, environmental groups like Forest and Bird were quick to point out the cleanup could cost millions.

The Westland District Council has applied for $700,000 and is understood to have written to ministers late last week after making the decision.

"If we got $750,000 minimum we'd go very, very close to doing another six months," Mr Smith said.

However, he doubted whether the clean-up could even be done in 12 months.

"There's a lot of stuff around, it's spread all over the place and it's going to take some time. There are alternatives, the Ministry of Environment may well want to pick the project up and do it themselves.

"We're not putting any pressure on [the government]. We're just saying from a being-able-to-afford-it point of view this is where we are at the present time, we've got to put things on hold in that area while we attend to other things unless some money comes through from government."

Forest and Bird regional manager for Canterbury Westland Nicky Snoyink said: "I guess it just sort of reinforces the size of this environmental disaster and the capacity of a really small community and council like this one doesn't have to manage a disaster of this size.

"It really raises a much bigger question about our abilities to respond to these disasters adequately ... This is not an isolated event. This is an event we are facing around the country and especially in the face of climate change, there's 100 of these type of landfills around the country that we know of.

"This is going to put a huge amount of pressure on these small communities ... if they have to clean them up themselves.

She said it was starting to look like the government wasn't listening.

"It's a real wake up call. I think it is time for the government to stand up and listen and look at this and it's a real opportunity for them to come in and have a look at this one and gauge how much it is to clean something like this up so that they can make a plan and develop some national scale response as well as address the bigger question of waste to landfill."

She said the area had been cleaned up in places visible to tourists but a few kilometres away, it was "out of sight, out of mind".

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