Sludge project boosts draft rates rise to 3.9pc

JANINE RANKIN
Last updated 12:00 26/02/2013

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The late addition of a $900,000 project to turn sewage sludge into compost has boosted the Palmerston North City Council's draft rates rise to 3.9 per cent.

But councillors at last night's committee of council meeting would not include extra money to make improvements to the wastewater treatment plant to stop its negative effects on the Manawatu River.

Cr Duncan McCann proposed an additional $300,000 be included in the budget to at least cover the cost of another summer of alum dosing to remove phosphorus. High phosphorus levels in the river were found last summer, and identified as the likely culprit for boosting algal growth and harming aquatic life.

Cr McCann said the council should have a budget allowance to do whatever a summer of water quality testing and research suggested needed to be done.

"It would be a clear indication to Horizons (Regional Council) and agricultural interests that we are prepared to step up to our responsibilities."

But other councillors were not prepared to assume this summer's investigations at the plant would confirm the extra dosing would need to continue, or guess what other improvements Horizons might require.

The plan does include $600,000 to complete an action plan for the cost of river monitoring and implementing some improvements.

It would also cover some of the costs of dealing with recommendations for changes to the discharge consent conditions that Horizons has said it will rewrite, depending on the research results. Cr McCann said he was disappointed councillors seemed more concerned about "sucking up to the electorate" in an election year and keeping the draft rates increase artificially low than taking responsibility for the discharge.

Chief executive Paddy Clifford counselled against guessing a dollar value before the council had the results of testing and an understanding of what needed to be done.

Cr Vaughan Dennison said it was known there were issues with the treatment plant, and there should be a budget in the draft plan that went out for public consultation.

"The argument for keeping rates down is popular, but we have a responsibility to look after city assets, and the river is one of those."

Cr McCann said councillors had been happy to vote for $1.25 million to strengthen council-owned earthquake-prone buildings, before they knew exactly what would be needed.

The same approach should apply to the wastewater treatment plant, he said. His proposal was defeated, by six votes to nine.

The sludge composting proposal, however, was supported.

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It involves spending $800,000 on a "dewatering" or drying system to remove the moisture from primary organic sludge, and $100,000 to start it working. The operating costs in future years would be $275,000.

City Networks general manager Ray Swadel said the process would enable the dried sludge to be mixed with green and wood waste to make compost to cover the closed Awapuni landfill.

An added advantage would be to prolong the life of the storage lagoons and drying beds that would be at capacity within three to four years, delaying or reducing the need to spend $4.5m in three years' time to otherwise dispose of the stored sludge.

Council staff would still have to present a business case to the council before the project could go ahead.

- Manawatu Standard

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