Rural community wary of land grabbing for sewage disposal

The Palmerston North sewage ponds are located behind the town pound.

Warwick Smith / Stuff

The Palmerston North sewage ponds are located behind the town pound.

Members of the rural community downstream from Palmerston North are begging city councilors not to be too ambitious about how much sewage to dump into the ground.

Last week, city council gave the go-ahead to develop a plan for future wastewater management that would begin with the diversion of low-flow Manawatū River discharges.

Probably the best possible option to be presented to the Horizons Regional Council in September would include future plans to divert even more to the land.

But farmer Peter Wells, also a spokesperson for the Federated Farmers Membership Food and Fiber Forum, said details of the extended land discharge were unclear.

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The preferred option after last week’s board meeting involves an increased level of wastewater treatment, including nitrogen and phosphorus removal, additional disinfection, filtration and carbon metering, before the discharge into the river through a wetland passage.

When the river was flowing below half its average flow, up to ¼ of the time, some 75 percent of the treated wastewater was routed to a land area for irrigation.

The council’s chief engineer, Robert van Bentum, told the council last week that this would be a starting point, with iwi and the community asking the council to do more.

The initial option would require around 760 hectares of land, likely located in areas of high productivity soil, and cost an estimated total of $ 496 million.

To put into context the amount of land needed, KiwiRail is seeking to designate 177 hectares between Bunnythorpe and Palmerston North Airport for the development of its freight stations, an area larger than the airport itself.

Wells said the land area would likely be outside the city limits, and certainly if the council adopted the hybrid options that would require up to 2,000 ha of land.

“Why are taxpayers outside the city limits forced to take city waste? ” He asked.

He said these people were not properly consulted and the proposal caused enormous anxiety.

They were unsure whether to continue with their life and business as usual, whether to renew leases, complete ongoing land purchases, or invest in sheepfolds or other business opportunities.

The food and fiber group asked council to stick with the option that only required 760 ha of land, which would eventually need to be designated under the Public Works Act.

Wells said if the initial level of landfill turns out to be successful, options for expanding it could be considered then, not now.

City council is legally bound to persevere with a timeline to get a new resource clearance application filed by the middle of next year, and to begin planning for construction of the treatment plant upgrades.

These obligations remain despite the three water reforms proposed by the government, which could see a new regional entity complete, pay for and own the plant.

Wells said this made it even more important for city councilors to express a preference during the debate on the final proposal on September 8.

“This may be the last time that there is a real council contribution to this issue, including the cost to the urban taxpayer, so we hope councilors can empathize with their rural neighbors. “

About Keneth T. Graves

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