Horowhenua council facing three costly options over waste

7:16 am on 6 February 2023
Horowhenua's new mayor, Michael Feyen, is refusing to enter the council building because of his concerns about its structural integrity.

File pic Photo: Google Maps / Screenshot

Fresh from an official reprimand for loose spending over the town dump, Horowhenua faces a tight call on what to do next with its waste.

It has three options, and whichever way it goes will cost over $1m a year.

One option, of reopening the dump and keeping it going for another 15 years, is not in favour, at least not with advisors. But councillors are yet to make up their minds, after the latest debate this week, the council said.

"Councillors will have another workshop to develop their thinking further," it said.

The Hokio landfill has been an albatross around ratepayers' neck, racking up millions in debt when it was meant to turn a profit and generating countless disputes and entanglements, including a telling-off this week from the Auditor-General for letting a small landfill review balloon into a near-$900,000 bill from a consultant

Carrying on ad hoc has cost the district council dear - while dump leachate has not done much for the sand dunes and stream by which it sits, either; reports talk about "elevated levels of several contaminants through a shallow soil profile".

So the new chief executive, and councillors elected last October, have been at pains to push the reset button, placing the renewed debate on the landfill's fate within the long-term plan.

The time is ticking for them, as consents count down.

Consultants told the council last week they favour the second of the three options: Shutting the landfill for good, then using the site for a recycling station which would generate revenue. The cost, under $1.6m a year.

Option one - shutting it and not using the site - was easiest, because it required no consents and, crucially, was "supported by interested community members", the council's meeting notes said.

But it also would cost the most, at $1.6m.

Reopening and using the landfill till 2037 was cheapest - $1.1m - but carried a "high risk of legal action and loss of community support", not to mention more pollution.

In the meantime, the landfill remains closed.

It was shut 'temporarily' in 2020 as arguments raged on, with waste trucked to a private landfill near Marton.

It does not help that councillors actually have two dumps to deal with: The landfill, as well as the 'old dump' next to it.

"This old dump site is often not presented in discussions," one local has said.

It opened in the 1970s and shut in 2004, but its effects are still felt.

"Current monitoring of groundwater shows that contamination effects are highest in the shallow groundwater profile," a report on the Old Dump said.

Sewage sludge was thrown away there, and it was not properly capped.

"Any leachate that flows from the base or sides ... will mix with the groundwater flow paths and form a pollutive plume of contaminants towards the Hokio Stream, and indeed the Tatana Drain."

The clean-up bill for the old dump is nearly $1m, plus yearly maintenance of $130,000, the council said.

It remains uncertain what it will do, or what it will find.

The $300,000 set aside to investigate just how bad the contamination is might still turn up some nasty surprises.