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WWTP - David Bennett Replies To Chronicle Article
Published: 26 Jun 2016

My wife suggested that the first point to make in my reply to Steve Baron’s article (Chronicle Wednesday June 15), was to state again the old maxim I sometimes repeat: “The only place “WEALTH comes before WORK” is in the dictionary.

Without exception, my friends and business associates who contributed to the advertisements “An open letter to the Wanganui District Council and ratepayers” would not describe themselves as really wealthy in the accepted sense. $100 each was not going to break the bank. We are just guys who have worked hard all our lives, and who feel a civic duty to raise a red flag when we see questionable decisions being made. The only political ambition is to set things right at the Council table, other than that, we would all rather be golfing or fishing as we retire.

A few of us have seen this day coming for a long time. Bernard Corkery, Graeme Young and I personally met with the Mayor in October 2014 and cautioned her about the real cost of what was being proposed. More latterly, we have all seen the recent letters from AFFCO and Tasman Tanning warning the Wanganui District Council, that the sewage plant design settled on is unaffordable. It will be a drag on our citizens for a generation if the “Wet Industries” leave the city simply because they have lower costs and better options elsewhere.

And we feel frustrated, when in the reply to the questions we raised, Cr. Hamish McDouall is seriously misinformed or simply in denial because the three major wet industries (AFFCO/Open Country and Tasman), have clearly and in writing indicated their intentions. His reply to questions 4 & 5, are wrong or he is misinformed, for we didn’t ask questions that we didn’t already know the answers to!

One of our bottom lines is that these industries must stay resident in Wanganui, for they constitute not just some 800 direct jobs, but also all the supporting engineering and servicing services they pay for.  

Just how the Council got to this situation is exercising the minds of a lot of people. While looking back to understand clearly why the sewage scheme installed under the M. Laws regime didn’t work is one thing, it won’t necessarily ensure the next one is the best we can afford.  What is required now is for District Councillors to be open to listening to advice from others. We all know that the Council has spent millions on advice so far, and it’s frustrating to reach this stage and find there are other more cost effective design options.

While the Mayor and individual Councillors must take final responsibility for decisions, the fact remains that they can justifiably claim some degree of technical ignorance on effluent disposal issues. For this, they relied on a few senior management executives in the Infrastructure Office. These individuals must be held to account, for they have led Councillors up a ‘smelly garden path’ by the nose. Looking in from the outside they would appear to have had their own agenda. Is it true that not only are these individuals not academically qualified or experienced in this branch of engineering? Is it also true that not many years ago, when some of the operational staff suggested there were things that could be done to help make the old plant operate, they were told “we don’t want to know, we are getting a new effluent plant?”   

Moreover, ask any of the wet industry leaders, and they will confirm that for at least two years, (maybe more) the Waste Water Working Group of Council staff and industry representatives, has effectively been inoperable. The industry reps could not work with council officers.

Thankfully, new council CEO Kym Fell has personally taken over the discussions with leading companies and one hopes that he is open to other suggestions, and brave enough to tell councillors there are in fact other options. Certainly Mr Fell should know that the citizens will be totally behind him if we get a new sewage plant for under $20M and we get to keep all these industries and the jobs they create in the city. It’s also interesting, that within the last two weeks, the mayor has been repeating the mantra that providing cost quotations to the wet industries could not be done for two more years, yet last week Mr Fell was able to make financial offers to the wet industries, including guarantees going some years out!

Even that is a concern, because should the existing design go ahead, and the wet industries stay, what that means is that we private citizens will be paying a great deal more. Watch this space. 

David Bennett

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