Sewerage scheme puts subcommittee at odds with Southland District Council

Commissioners from left, Rob Potts, Denis Nugent and Yvette Couch-Lewis at a hearing to decide the fate of a new ...
BARRY HARCOURT/ Fairfax NZ

Commissioners from left, Rob Potts, Denis Nugent and Yvette Couch-Lewis at a hearing to decide the fate of a new sewerage scheme in Te Anau in July 2014.

A subcommittee has opted not to appeal Te Anau sewerage scheme consents - narrowly avoiding an internal dispute with its own council.

An internal dispute within the Southland District Council has been narrowly avoided, with the Manapouri Community Development Area subcommittee deciding against appealing Te Anau sewerage scheme consents.

At a meeting in Manapouri today, the subcommittee voted against appealing the consents to the Environment Court after council chief executive Steve Ruru warned they would be in breach of the Local Government Act.

The subcommittee could not lodge an appeal in its own right and would have to recommend the council lodge the appeal on its behalf, he said.

"You don't have the authority to do it … essentially it would be an appeal of Southland District Council versus Southland District Council," he said.

About 30 members of the public attended the meeting, and all but one called for the subcommittee to appeal.

Subcommittee chairman Allan Youldon said it wanted to appeal to force the district council to communicate with Manapouri ratepayers about the scheme; however, Ruru said lodging an appeal would do the opposite.

He referred to his time as chief executive of the Kaipara District Council, when the Mangawhai Ratepayers Association took the council to court over its decision to build a sewerage scheme.

"I've come from a role in which the ratepayers said we have to take action to force the council to listen … the only winners out of that [course of action] were the lawyers," he said.

"Lodging an appeal will not force dialogue - it will draw battle lines … create a whole lot more bitterness and cost to ratepayers," he said.

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Southland District mayor Gary Tong said it was disheartening his promises of open dialogue had not been believed.

"We are committed to working with the Fiordland Sewage Options Group and the community," he said.

Youldon said it was hard to take Tong's word.

"The people of this area are quite aggrieved … they have lost trust and respect for SDC, which is greatly disappointing. Without lodging an appeal … you can walk away from discussions we want to have," he said.

Tong had written a letter to Youldon promising ongoing communication, but Youldon said it wasn't good enough.

"Nothing in your letter will instil confidence in me, what if you change your mind?"

Tong replied: "I don't think you know me very well, Mr Chairman. I will not change my mind. I have done my best to regain your trust.

"The communication lines are open now."

Calls from members of the public at the meeting to withdraw the proposal were declined.

"We can't stop the process," Tong said.

Ruru said he could not recommend the council walk away from the proposal without a full review of the project, and a business case being formed.

The subcommittee decided to abandon the appeal but recommend to the council that it be involved in discussions about a peer review of the proposal and all treatment and disposal options.

"I think we've made a great step to meet the objectives of this community," Youldon said.

"We would far rather work with you than against you."

After the meeting, Tong said the subcommittee had made its point.

The council would continue to evaluate alternative options put forward, but he admitted most of them had been regarding treatment options, not alternative sites or dispersal methods.

"We still have to dispose of it somewhere," he said.

Youldon said he had mixed feelings about the result of the meeting.

"I think we have made the best decision for the community," he said.

"[Even though] we didn't get our own way."

Youldon would not be drawn on what action the subcommittee would take if it felt future communication with the council was lacking.

"We would have to make serious consideration about what we do," he said.

 - The Southland Times

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