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WWTP - Serious Concerns Over Ignoring MOH Advice
Published: 24 Sep 2016 - - Author: Press Release

Three Whanganui District Councillors are publically expressing their concern that Council senior management is not following the advice provided to them by the Ministry of Health with regard to the design of the new $41.2M wastewater treatment plant.

Read WDC/Ministry Of Health correspondence here

A recent advertisement by the Whanganui Beyond 2030 political group, drew attention to the ongoing correspondence between the Ministry of Health and Council Infrastructure Manager, Mark Hughes,

This correspondence in late 2013, early 2014, highlighted the concern held by Mr John Harding, Senior Advisor , Public Health Engineering, and Sally Gilbert, Manager, Environmental Health that the procedure with regard to the wet industries was not robust. They detailed the process to be followed  when designing,  a waste water treatment plant to accommodate a mixture of domestic wastewater and industrial wastewater.and empathised the need to establish accurate flows and biological loads – then to design the plant accordingly. They questioned components of the design that had been selected, and  challenged the peer review process that council had undertaken.

Mr Harding said in a letter to Mark Hughes dated 4th February 2014 “You advise that the design influent specification has been determined, but later you say that you are still working with the wet industries. Given that more than 80 percent of the organic load to the treatment plant is from industry, I cannot see how the design influent specification can be finalised before trade waste agreements are signed. Have the estimated future trade waste charges been determined and agreed with trade waste dischargers?

Have the managers of the large wet industries decided on their pre-treatment options?

Cr Rob Vinsen, a member of the  Wastewater Advisory Group, said:

“ These questions remain largely unresolved today. I was told that Tasman Tanning are installing a major pre treatment plant – yet when I enquired of this from Council the reply was that they are unaware of that. No signed agreements are in place with  the six trade waste industries and three of these have advised that they are out of the scheme. Tasman Tanning want to stay in but have advised Council that the expected 100% increase in the Trade Waste Levy is unsustainable for them.

Cr Philippa Baker Hogan said :

“We were aware of the concerns held by the Ministry of Health not long after they arose in 2014, but we were told that all the outstanding issues had been addressed satisfactorily. This new revelation that they weren’t is very concerning. As late as July 13 2016 Sally Gilbert wrote to Mark Hughes “In our opinion there is a very real need for a comprehensive and properly documented peer review by a well briefed and appropriately experienced firm of consulting engineers.” After Mr Hughes replied she said “I agree that Council has obtained  reports from highly respected experts, however, I am not sure if their terms of reference were as comprehensive as you may have assumed.”

The major concern of the three councillors is that the Chief Executive has now signed the $41.2M contract with Hawkins Construction. The Ministry of Health advised in a letter  to Mark Hughes on June 20 2016  “ During our teleconference last week you advised that you were aiming to have the construction contract signed by the end of this month, with construction starting in September. Based on the experience of our public health engineers, and our experiences with the sewerage subsidy scheme and with supporting other DHB public health units and councils address issues with failed plants, we caution strongly against committing to a construction contract prior to finalising the influent specification ie prior to signing trade waste agreements and cost sharing agreements with the large wet industries.

The reply that was sent to the Ministry of Health was :“Your caution against committing to a construction contract prior to finalising trade waste agreements with the wet industries is noted. We are in recent and ongoing discussion with the wet industries in relation to the proposed scheme.”

 Cr Charlie Anderson said:

 “Clearly, the signing of the contract has been influenced by the election  and the caution advised by the Ministry of Health has just been ignored. Now that AFFCO, 65% of the plant load are out, the advice of the Ministry is even more pertinent. The question “ is the old plant salvageable given the load is reduced 65%” needs to be professionally answered or else the ratepayer will be stuck with financing a plant capable of servicing a residential population of 300,000.

Read WDC/Ministry Of Health correspondence here

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