Coastal erosion causes old landfill sites to spill waste onto South Island beach

The site of one of two closed landfills located on an eroding cliff face above a beach near Oamaru.
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The site of one of two closed landfills located on an eroding cliff face above a beach near Oamaru.

Coastal erosion is causing rubbish from two historic landfills to spill down a cliff face and onto a beach near Oamaru.

The two rural landfills are located along a steep coastal cliff between Beach Rd and the Pacific Ocean. They sit on Waitaki District Council land, but were never opened or approved as landfills by the council.

A council report says the landfills were discovered in 2017 and about 60 tonnes of waste was removed. An unquantified amount of material remains at both sites, which are vulnerable to coastal erosion.

An aerial view of where the two landfills are located on Beach Rd, near Oamaru.
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An aerial view of where the two landfills are located on Beach Rd, near Oamaru.

"The high water mark is close to the toe of the landfills, with wave run-up expected to reach the landfills frequently ... The coastline is in slow retreat and buried waste [has] been exposed and fallen out onto the beach." 

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More rubbish is expected to end up on the beach as the cliff-face keeps eroding, the report says.

Coastal erosion has resulted in contents of the landfill spilling down the face of the cliff and onto the beach below.
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Coastal erosion has resulted in contents of the landfill spilling down the face of the cliff and onto the beach below.

It is thought the landfills operated as local "fly-tipping spots" between the 1950s and 1970s.

"Fly-tipping continues to be prevalent, particularly at site 2 where there is also a gravelled lay-by area," the report says.

The council has since blocked access to the lay-by area to prevent further fly-tipping.

It has also requested $21,351 from the Ministry for the Environment to remove the remaining waste and remediate the sites.

Excessive levels of lead, arsenic, zinc and copper had been found at one site, while the other was contaminated with lead and zinc. 

The Otago Regional Council (ORC) has added both sites to its contaminated sites register. 

A recent ORC report says there are 1914 sites across the region recorded on its Hazardous Activities and Industries List (HAIL), covering 5800 hectares of land. Of those, 37 are contaminated.

High priority contaminated sites include the Dunedin City Gasworks Tar Well, Oamaru Gasworks, and Blue Mountain Lumber.

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