Mediation may solve councils' river dispute

Discord between Horizons Regional Council and Palmerston North City Council about the city's wastewater discharge into the Manawatu River has shifted to a more harmonious tone, but legal action against the city council has not been scrapped.

City chief executive Paddy Clifford said the city had accepted Horizons' invitation to go into mediation to help find a solution to the alleged damage the discharge is creating for the river.

Horizons had also agreed to the city's request to put a hold on the abatement notice demanding the city stop the discharge from causing significant adverse effects on aquatic life downstream by the end of the month, said Mr Clifford.

However, the city's appeal to the Environment Court against the notice remains in place, as does the abatement notice itself.

The city has asked Horizons to cancel the notice, but has not had a response.

Mr Clifford said the stay on the abatement notice meant the city could work toward finding out what needed to be done to improve the quality of the discharge without immediate fear of prosecution which, in the worst-case scenario could carry a fine of up to $600,000.

"I'm very pleased with Horizons' quick response, and I have also responded quickly to the invitation to mediation.

"If we can get a resolution through mediation, that would be good for all."

An independent mediator would be appointed to oversee the process.

Also, Mr Clifford said, a joint work plan agreed between the two councils was due to begin within days. It would involve a series of tests on river water samples to help understand the extent of the adverse effects and identify what was causing them.

With that information the councils would be able to devise solutions and work out what improvements were needed at the wastewater treatment plant.

"Whatever happens, and irrespective of the abatement notice, we need to do this work, and it is good that we are doing it together in the interests of the river," said Mr Clifford.

Horizons turned down the chance to talk about the deal while the appeal was before the Environment Court, but confirmed that lines of communication between the councils remained open.

Manawatu Standard