West Coasters told expensive 'cake-maker' sewage plant the only option

The West Coast town of Franz Josef suffered flooding in 2016 which swept away its sewage ponds.

The West Coast town of Franz Josef suffered flooding in 2016 which swept away its sewage ponds.

A Westland District Council manager at the centre of a Serious Fraud Office investigation told both the council and staff that any plan other than his would not pass the consent process.

However, this assertion is now being challenged. 

Stuff investigation last week found that Vivek Goel, the council's assets manager, oversaw a $7 million agreement with a South Auckland cake decorator, who had no waste management experience, to build a sewage plant in Franz Josef.

Vivek Goel, Westland District Council assets and engineering manager, proposed building a $7 million sewage plant in ...

Vivek Goel, Westland District Council assets and engineering manager, proposed building a $7 million sewage plant in Franz Josef.

After floods swept away the sewage ponds in Franz Josef in 2016, the council started looking for ways to solve Franz Josef's sewage problem.

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Some of the options included extending the ponds or moving them somewhere else.

Goel told both council and the public that such options were not possible. He said the only option was to build a $7m sewage plant for the population of 440.

Goel told those present at public consultation meetings that any plan to resolve Franz Josef's sewage problems with ponds would not get West Coast Regional Council (WCRC) consent.

The regional council said it never ruled out a ponds option.

Gavin Molloy, Westland council's water and wastewater supervisor for 15 years, said Goel was adamant that anything to do with the oxidation ponds was not going to get past.

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"He said the regional council wouldn't allow anything to do with the oxidation ponds. They said the WCRC won't let us do this, they won't let us do that."

The WCRC, in charge of the wastewater consent process, denied it told the council a pond plan could not be done.

WCRC chief executive Mike Meehan said the authority would only assess plans that were presented. 

"All we've done is said to them that by April 2018 we want a fully commissioned, compliant system. We don't assess what we can't see."

Goel used independent contractor Opus International Consultants to provide information about a recommended option.

A November 2016 Opus report supported Goel's proposal to rule out oxidisation ponds as an option for Franz Josef and push for the sewage plant plan.

The report presented to councillors and the public calculated the oxidisation pond plan would cost between $7.7m and $10.1m. 

It also said the "WCRC cannot guarantee a pond system would be consentable at next renewal". 

Of all the nine options, the option recommended by Goel was the only one that lacked a consent status category.

Opus recommended a plant, but did not state where it should go or who should be contracted to build it.

Molloy criticised the Opus report for overstating the cost of extending or moving ponds. 

"The costs that the consultants had put together to cost out the remediation work were wildly blown out. They put figures in there like it was $500,000 to buy additional land, yet the Westland District Council owns that land."

Opus declined to comment, saying it needed permission from council chief executive Tanya Winter.

Molloy assembled his own $1.3m plan. He worked with Scenic Hotel, which has a third of the town's toilets, as well as other local businesses and environmental consultant Pattle Delamore.

"The plan met all guidelines provided by the New Zealand Wastewater Association. We don't need any new resource consents, it's already compliant with existing resource consents."

But Molloy said he did not receive a formal reply.

Then-mayor Mike Havill said he was informed by Goel that it would have been much harder to get a consent on the pond options than the plant Goel was recommending.

"I was under the impression that the consent process would have been lengthy and costly."

Goel could not be reached for comment.

 - Stuff

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