Feelings ran deep in Eltham last night as residents finally got a chance to air their concerns over a rotting pit of buttermilk.
More than 50 people took the South Taranaki District Council to task over a month-long assault on their nostrils.
Fronting up to questions were council chief executive Craig Stevenson and engineering group manager Brent Manning.
Fonterra dumped about 3 million litres of the milk byproduct, along with another 150,000 litres of milk tainted with drilling wastes, at the Eltham wastewater treatment plant before the stench forced them to halt the trucks.
Fonterra had hoped to unload 8 million litres as a way to cope with record milk production.
It was supposed to be an "environmentally friendly" solution in a deal struck with the council.
But a lack of communication and concerns about health and safety issues relating to the types of gases emanating from the plant had many at the meeting crying foul.
Deputy mayor Alex Ballantyne, who lives opposite the plant, hit out at promises the odour would not be noticeable.
He was met with rapturous applause.
Mr Ballantyne said "big holes" in the pond's cover meant the smell was always going to escape.
"These excuses about the pressure building up and having to be vented somewhere are just absolute nonsense," he said.
"If you fixed the cover none of the gases would escape."
He said it was only luck that a prevailing wind took most of the smell away from town.
"Not good planning or management." He said flippant responses to residents' queries had also inflamed the issue.
Mr Stevenson said the blame fell squarely on council staff's shoulders and they were looking for a quick and efficient solution.
"I'm gutted this has happened."
Having brought in an independent meeting chairman, the council outlined a plan to deal with the foul smelling sludge.
Mr Manning said they had enlisted the help of a Fonterra-employed expert to better understand how to break down the substances.
And they were looking at ways to remove the gas, which could including flaring.
"It can be done, it's just a matter of doing it properly."
He said they were also investigating an American company's claim of a product that would eliminate the smell in days by "shock treating" the pond.
And as a final resort, they would consider loading the sludge back onto trucks for Fonterra to dispose of in another way.
"I appreciate the smell hasn't gone away yet and it may be a few weeks before it does."
However, the council did find a few friends in the audience who appreciated that they were trying to find an environmentally friendly solution in disposing of milk waste.
The council will meet with affected residents in eight days and would keep them informed as much as possible as they worked towards fixing the problem.
- Taranaki Daily News
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