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WTTP - Seeking Clarity From Councillors
Published: 03 Oct 2016
Author: Alan Henderson


OPEN EMAIL TO (1) HELEN CRAIG, (2) JENNY DUNCAN, (3) ANNETTE MAIN, (4) HAMISH MCDOUALL, (5) RAY STEVENS, AND (6) RANGI WILLS

This open email in response to the invitation extended in your advertorial “Six Independent Elected Representatives Provide the Facts on the Wastewater Plant”, that featured in the Chronicle on 1 October; that invitation being:-

“IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS, OR REQUIRE CLARITY, PLEASE FEEL FREE TO ASK ANY OF US”

I wish to pass comment on points raised in your advertorial, in the hope that you will be able to comment on in return, and in so doing provide much needed clarity on this vexed subject of Whanganui’s WWTP fiasco.  

The reason for the open nature of the communication, is that there are many people within the Whanganui community also searching for clarity on the subject, in order to make an informed choice when it comes to voting in this election.

1. SOME BACKGROUND INFORMATION TO START WITH:-
Ø Ms Main has claimed, and you all appear to be in agreement with her on this point, that “there has been no alternative design put forward which will meet the needs of our community.”  
Unfortunately with this whole unfortunate fiasco, all the focus has been on coming up with a DESIGN for a new WWTP, as opposed to coming up with a SOLUTION to the biological system problems of sludge build-up and odour at the old WWTP; for which a solution does exist, but it is a SCIENCE solution, which Council has refused outright to consider, due to its declared anti-innovation and anti-science stance taken in relation to addressing the biological system problems at the WWTP.
Ø Council has been adamant from the outset, that an engineering [“process design”] approach had to be adopted in trying to address the biological system problems at the WWTP, and it this closed-minded approach that has prevented the solution from being delivered, but instead has created the WWTP fiasco as we know it today.
Ø Council gave engineers carte blanche to try and address the biological system problem, and these engineers have had a field day in doing so, at the expense of the community.  
These engineers have been driven by one-upmanship, ego and financial greed, culminating in them NOT having solved the biological system problem, but in having achieved their end goal of an expensive new plant, which unfortunately does NOT meet the Auditor-General’s criteria of “an affordable outcome that meets the needs of the community”.
Ø Council’s closed mindedness towards  innovation and leading-edge SCIENCE to solve the biological system problems, has come at a huge cost to the community, being that of crippling and unsustainable debt for the economically challenged community of Whanganui to bear for many years to come.
Nothing to date has been able to sway Council away from their staunch anti-innovation and anti-science stance, not even the risk-free [“no performance, no pay”] offer of one of the science solutions.
In summary, Council chose the route of engineering “process design” to address the biological system at whatever cost, as opposed to considering leading-edge PROVEN science/innovation offering a guaranteed cost-effective SOLUTION, plus the added value benefit of delivering ongoing operational plant efficiencies and significant operational cost savings.
Ø Following the recent release of the  MOH email communications with Council, the writer took a ‘public good’ initiative of making a further request to the Associate Minister of Local Government, that a Crown Manager be appointed to resolve the escalating WWTP fiasco there in Whanganui, that request being:
Pursuant to section 258D of the Local Government Act 2002, seek that the Associate Minister of Local Government appoints a Crown Manager to the Whanganui District Council to assist the Council by taking responsibility for addressing all issues relating to Whanganui’s current WWTP fiasco/crisis, with the goal of delivering the community with an outcome that meets the Auditor-General’s criteria of “an affordable outcome that meets the needs of the community”.

2. “THE REPORT FROM HUMPHREY ARCHER OF CH2M BECA, AN INDEPENDENT AND HIGHLY RESPECTED WASTEWATER SPECIALIST DEMONSTRATES WHY THIS PLANT WOULD NEVER HAVE WORKED.”
Ø Council rests their whole  case for a new plant on the basis of Mr Archer’s opinion, believing him to be THE expert on ALL matters relating to wastewater treatment design; a “process design” engineer who is anti-science and anti-innovation.
Ø I wish to note the following comment made by a local government infrastructure employee who has had direct dealings with Mr Archer:-
“I have had words with Humphrey Archer from Beca’s as well. He is considered to be the wastewater pond guru in New Zealand. But he will not accept that the sludge can be removed utilising microbes and he recently advised Nelson City Council to adopt the more expensive option of mechanical removal. It is such a shame that the ratepayers have to stump up when these decisions are made on their behalf. I honestly believe that consultants are not prepared to be innovative because they are protecting their professional indemnity insurance. It would be nice to see them come under some fire because they have not provided the most economical solution.”
N.B. “Utilising microbes” compared with the catalytic biochemical science solution options offered to Council, to solve the biological system problems of sludge build-up and odour at its WWTP, is like comparing today’s smartphone technology with first generation mobile phones i.e. the technology/science is a true ‘disrupter’ to the wastewater treatment sector.

3. “TO KEEP SPENDING MONEY TRYING TO RECTIFY A FUNDAMENTALLY FLAWED DESIGN WOULD BE THROWING GOOD MONEY AFTER BAD.”
Ø The proposed innovative science solutions would work within a “fundamentally flawed design”.  
Again, it is not about being design focused, but being solutions focused.
Ø Talking about “throwing good money after bad”, that was the strategy Council’s infrastructure manager adopted with the $2.3 million of short-term mitigation measures taken to address the sludge build-up and odour problems, which based on good science was always going to be an exercise in futility and a complete waste of $2.3 million, which it ended up being.
Council justified their flawed strategy on the grounds that the measures were recommended by their engineers.

4. “THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW DOCUMENT BY AUSTRALIAN ROBERT DOMM EXPLAINS THE DECISION MAKING PROCESS AROUND THE OLD PLANT DESIGN…..RELIED ON ADVICE THAT WAS NOT ROBUST AND IGNORED CONCERNS RAISED”
Ø Due to the flawed terms of reference, this review only covered the 2003 – 2012 period, yet the same mistakes have been repeated POST this period, delivering the community with the WWTP fiasco it has on its hands today.

5. “FOLLOWING 4 YEARS OF EXHAUSTIVE ENQUIRY BY REPUTABLE SPECIALISTS IN WASTEWATER….A DESIGN HAS BEEN AGREED….HAS BEEN PEER-REVIEWED BY TWO SEPARATE WELL-QUALIFIED WASTEWATER SPECIALISTS”
Ø Need to seriously question the word “reputable” used here, based on actual performance of these engineers, plus the MOH’s opinion as conveyed in their email documentation.
Ø As for the peer review process adopted by Council, this was both flawed and not in accordance with ‘best practice’, a point that the MOH also raised in their emails.

6. “SECTION 10 OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT ACT CLEARLY MANDATES THAT LOCAL GOVERNMENT IS TO MEET THE CURRENT AND FUTURE NEEDS OF COMMUNITIES FOR GOOD QUALITY INFRASTRUCTURE FOR HOUSEHOLDS AND BUSINESSES.”
Ø Is it correct, that Whanganui District Council is the only council in New Zealand that puts no requirement on its wet industries to pre-treat their waste prior to discharge into the municipal WWTP?
Ø IF local wet industries were to treat their waste at source with the same ‘disrupter’ science/technology offered to Council to solve its WWTP biological system problems, the biological load of their waste on the WWTP would be SIGNIFICANTLY reduced, and in turn would basically solve the biological system problems at the WWTP.
Ø The science solution to Council’s WWTP problems was a holistic solution involving application of the science at source [wet industries] and at the WWTP.  Interestingly, this solution was proposed to both Council and the wet industries from Day 1, but unfortunately it was ‘over the head’ of both parties at the time, not helped by the fact that the wet industries were working to a different agenda to that of reducing their biological load, and Council were going down their flawed “process design”/new plant route.

7. “THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE AND HIS OFFICERS ARE WORKING HARD ON REFINING COSTS [FOR THE WET INDUSTRIES]”
Ø Conducting such negotiations with the wet industries is clearly beyond the capabilities of Council’s chief executive and his officers, and Council should have engaged the services of a skilled and proven negotiator for this task.
Ø The fact that Council signed a $42 million contract to build a new plant prior to such agreements being in place is both irresponsible and sheer lunacy.  Why did Council refuse to listen to the MOH’s expert advice in this regard, which was offered by the MOH free-of-charge?

8. “BASED ON THESE REVISED FIGURES THEREFORE, THIS PLANT IS NOT ONLY AFFORDABLE, IT’S PRACTICAL”.
Ø BUT does the new plant meet the Auditor-General’s criteria of “an affordable outcome that meets the needs of the community”?
Ø There has been very little focus by the engineers, on the significance the ongoing operating costs for the new plant, with the focus largely being on design and build.
Ø With Council having made its flawed decision to proceed with the $42 million new plant, WHY did it not considered embracing leading-edge PROVEN science/innovation into this design, to deliver the proven added value benefits of delivering ongoing operational plant efficiencies and significant operational cost savings?  
Ø An additional benefit from science/innovation proposed to Council, is the impact it would have in being able to reduce the actual capital cost for the new plant.

9. “IT [A SMALLER PLANT] WOULD LIMIT AFFCO’S FLEXIBILITY SHOULD THEY FIND AN INDEPENDENT DESIGN UNFEASIBLE AND THIS WOULD EFFECTIVELY FORCE THEM OUT OF TOWN.”
Ø A little arrogant of Council to be thinking this way, and Affco with their reputation for being hard-nosed businessmen, I would be 99.9% confident that their waste treatment solution would be feasible; plus being forced out of town could prove to be a positive for Affco, in light of the ongoing rationalisation going on within their industry.

10. “A SMALLER PLANT WOULD SEVERELY LIMIT OUR CAPACITY TO ATTRACT ANOTHER INDUSTRY THAT MIGHT LOCATE HERE THEREFORE WE LIMIT OUR ABILITY TO ATTRACT NEW BUSINESS.”
Ø With the ongoing advances in science and technology, there is every likelihood for any new industry, would be able to treat their own waste more cost effectively than being totally dependent on the new WWTP.

11. “With the larger plant, we provide our community with the most cost effective treatment option and industry with the flexibility to continue their operations and expand.”
Ø IF science and innovation were to be embraced by Council, as opposed to currently being rejected due to Council’s anti science and innovation stance, there would be a more cost effective treatment option; plus ongoing science and innovation would provide industry with the both the flexibility and ability to expand its operations without being totally dependent on Council’s new plant.

12. “IT’S POSSIBLE THERE IS AN ALTERNATIVE DESIGN, BUT THE LIKELIHOOD IT IS MATERIALLY CHEAPER TO BUILD OR RUN IS LOW AND THAT DIFFERENCE WOULD BE MINOR, ESPECIALLY IN RELATION TO THE ADDED COST OF A NEW DESIGN.” [CLAIM MADE BY MR ARCHER]
Ø As mentioned previously, Mr Archer is in the business of selling “process design”, and is all about designing plant, and the bigger the plant the better from his perspective.
Being both anti-science and anti-innovation like Council, the last thing Mr Archer wants to hear about is the availability of a ‘disrupter’ science/technology that threatens both his ego and patch.

13. “IN THE MEANTIME, RAW SEWAGE AND CHEMICALS HAVE BEEN PUMPED TO SEA FOR OVER THREE YEARS….A POTENTIAL RISK OF HEALTH ISSUES FROM SWIMMING OR EATING SHELL FISH…LOSS OF USE OF OUR BEACHES.”
Ø Interesting that Ms Main assured the community that this would not happen under her mayoral watch, and then goes and champions this irresponsible and reckless action on the environment.
Ø Again, Council has refused to embrace science and innovation based measures, that would help mitigate the toxic damage that their irresponsible and reckless action is currently causing the environment off the coast of Whanganui.

14. “THE LIKELY POTENTIAL FOR A COMMISSIONER TO BE APPOINTED TO RUN COUNCIL”
Ø What is required right NOW, is for a Crown Manager to be appointed to sort out the WWTP fiasco, which has clearly been beyond the abilities of both Council management and the departing governance to resolve.
Ø The following request is currently before the Minister and Associate Minister of Local Government and the Auditor-General:-
PURSUANT TO SECTION 258D OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT ACT 2002, SEEK THAT THE ASSOCIATE MINISTER OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT APPOINTS A CROWN MANAGER TO THE WHANGANUI DISTRICT COUNCIL TO ASSIST THE COUNCIL BY TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR ADDRESSING ALL ISSUES RELATING TO WHANGANUI’S CURRENT WWTP FIASCO/CRISIS, WITH THE GOAL OF DELIVERING THE COMMUNITY WITH AN OUTCOME THAT MEETS THE AUDITOR-GENERAL’S CRITERIA OF “AN AFFORDABLE OUTCOME THAT MEETS THE NEEDS OF THE COMMUNITY”.

Having accepted your invitation to ask for clarity, I trust that the honourable thing will be done, and that your comment will be forthcoming to the comments that have been made in this open email.

Thanking you all in anticipation.

Kind regards,
Alan Henderson

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