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Independent Enquiry For WWTP?
Published: 09 May 2016

A full independent enquiry into what went wrong with the MWH designed Wastewater Treatment Plant, the actions taken to endeavour to rectify the plant, and the need for a new $41.5M replacement plant must be undertaken, and it must start now.

That is the strongly held view of Cr Rob Vinsen who will lodge a Notice of Motion to get the matter on the agenda at the next Council meeting on May 31/ June 1. The notice will be seconded by Cr Rangi Wills, one of only three councillors that were on Council during the design and implementation process of the plant from 2003 until 2006.

Cr Vinsen asked the Chief Executive , Kym Fell, via an email on 8th March, to take action to initiate the enquiry. Kym Fell replied that “he agrees that there should be learnings from these types of events and that he would consider my request”. Nothing has happened since, despite many public requests, including the Editor of the Wanganui Chronicle.

Cr Vinsen said that this has frustrated him to the extent that he will lodge this Notice of Motion to get the matter on the agenda.

“With the upcoming election in October it is important that the public know the real facts around  why council felt it needed to abandon the old plant, and to build a $41.5M replacement. They also need to know what the professional advice was that led Council to spend $1m in legal fees in an action against MWH. That means that all professional advice and Council discussion that currently remains confidential should now be made public. There is simply no legal excuse for confidentiality now that the case against MWH has been settled.  I asked Kym Fell to release the proposal that MWH put forward to rectify the plant, but council legal advisors Kensington Swan said that Council couldn’t do so without the agreement of MWH. I then asked MWH to release it, who said that they couldn’t do so without having the agreement of Council. Hence a ridiculous standoff, so included in my notice of motion is a resolution to seek the consent of MWH to the release of all professional advice and also the terms of the settlement.

A resolution was put in January 2013 by Cr Michael Laws which was seconded by Deputy Mayor Hamish McDouall. It was lost at the time, said Cr Vinsen, because the timing wasn’t appropriate given that there was looming legal action against the plant designers.

There is no such reason now for any further delay, said Cr Vinsen. “The public will demand complete transparency and independence  for this enquiry, so the person/s selected to conduct it must be very credible. If there is any blame to be attributed it must be identified.

Cr Rob Vinsen


1.0       THAT  The Chief Executive commence a full  and independent Public Enquiry into all matters relating to the  failure of the Whanganui  Wastewater Treatment Plant,

1.1       THAT The Chief Executive plan a timeline to enable the conclusions reached from this Public Enquiry to be  presented to  an Extraordinary Meeting of Council, advertised to, and held in public before  August 31 2016.

2.0     THAT The Chief Executive consider the appointment of a suitably qualified, and independent, person or persons to conduct this enquiry, and make a recommendation to Council.

2.1   THAT the Terms of Reference for this Enquiry are developed by the Chief Executive and shall include ( but are not to be  limited to) answers to the following questions:

  • Who was involved, and what was the decision making process, starting from the initial design of the plant in 2003 to the commissioning of the plant in 2007?
    • After commissioning in 2007, did the Whanganui District Council, manage the new plant in a satisfactory and professional manner, including taking all necessary advice from the plant designer and implementing their recommendations according to the commissioning documentation. ?
    •  What consultation took place with MWH on operational issues after the commissioning of the plant, and what advice was received from MWH on solving the odour and operational issues relating to the plant after 2007 up until the serious odour issues that occurred in late 2013.
    • Was the MWH designed plant salvageable? All professional evidence that supported Council’s decision in deciding it wasn’t, including all reports that are currently confidential, are to be publically released.

3.0   THAT All decisions made by Councillors, Council staff, or by Council professional advisors, commencing from 2003 until 2016 are to be subjected to review by the independent person or persons and any conclusions regarding fault, if any, are to be included in the final report.

4.0  THAT agreement is sought from MWH that all professional evidence and advice relating to the lawsuit, and for their rectification proposal, can now be released to the public.

5.0   THAT agreement is sought from MWH to the public release of the quantum and terms of the mediated settlement of the lawsuit.

6 .0      THAT All documentation relating to the MWH designed plant, the actions taken to rectify that plant, the lawsuit against MWH, and the design of the replacement plant that are currently classified as confidential are now released to the public.

7.0       THAT no contract is entered into for the construction of the replacement plant until a signed agreement is finalised with the Trade Waste Industries.

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