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$37m for new sewage treatment scheme in Featherston “worst case scenario”

Report from LDR
A $37million price tag for Featherston’s wastewater treatment has been called a “worst-case scenario” by South Wairarapa’s Mayor. Alex Beijen said the figure was given by advisors Wellington Water for top-end options to close out the town’s long-running sewage saga.

The water conglomerate put 16 concepts to the town’s public at a presentation at the Garrison Bar on Thursday night.They included several options that had previously discounted, including discharging treated sewage into the ward’s waterways.

Other options included a combined South Wairarapa scheme, involving a new treatment plant serving the Greytown, Martinborough, and Featherston townships.

Beijen said the number had come from Wellington Water to place a maximum dollar amount for the SWDC’s long term planning.

“We haven’t decided which idea the community will want to go ahead with. The number is the worst-case scenario. We don’t know, they don’t know what the number is. Hopefully, by March [the next stage in SWDC”s long term plan], the number will be much more considered when it goes for full consultation.

“We don’t want to continue doing what previous councils have done, and give too low a figure, which won’t give us the result we want, or puts us in the wrong frame of mind as to the importance of it.

“In my heart, I don’t think it will be that number, but I’d rather it was a worse [higher] number than an undercooked number.”

Deputy Mayor Garrick Emms was the most vocal critic of the process at the committee table. Emms led a campaign about the treatment plant before his election in 2019. “Some of the options – taking wastewater to the Ruamahanga, to the Tauherenikau, to the moana, to the sea, I don’t consider them viable options.” Emms recommended a 17th option – “looking at more innovative ideas … We are yet to see an innovative option or idea. I haven’t seen one.”

Beijen said each possible idea had to be put on the table. He compared the options list to those given over the Pain Farm issue in Martinborough.

Last year, SWDC staff prepared a paper for the future of the council’s property asset, including its sale. This proposal received short shrift from local ratepayers.
“There was a report done into the farm, and the same question was asked – “why are you putting forward options that are unacceptable. But when you are doing a back-to-basics review, to have hand-on-heart and say this was a complete and total review, you’ve got to look at every option, even if you know it’s unacceptable.”

Beijen said all ideas had to be considered as the community has asked the council, through consultation, to throw out the application and start again. The previous resource consent application to discharge wastewater to land is in the process of being revoked, after three years of standstill.

“This comes with starting again from scratch. And I know this is frustrating for some people, who ask why are we relitigating the same ground, but it’s the process to do it properly, and in a bulletproof manner.”

SWDC and Wellington Water will aim to have moved closer to concepts and planning when the next stage of its long-term planning arrives in March.

Brian Jephson, assets and services committee chair, asked to have updates at each of the panel’s meetings.

Wellington Water’s 16 ideas for Featherston’s wastewater treatment plant

1. A new wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) and continue discharge to Donalds Creek
2. New WWTP and discharge to the Tauherenikau river
3. Upgraded WWTP and discharge to the Ruamahanga river
4. New WWTP and discharge to Lake Wairarapa
5. Upgraded WWTP and full flow to land discharge with large storage
6. New WWTP and combined land discharge and high rate trenches
7. Upgraded WWTP and combined land and water discharge via small rapid infiltration basins [Using Donalds Creek, Tauherenikau river, Ruamahanga river, or Lake Wairarapa]
8. New WWTP and combined land and water discharge via small rapid infiltration basins, quality suitable for non drinking water reuse [Using Donalds Creek, Tauherenikau River, Ruamahanga River, or Lake Wairarapa.
9. Indirect potable water for drinking water augmentation.
10. Greywater reuse.
11. Groundwater shallow bore discharge or groundwater deep bore discharge.
12. Onsite wastewater systems [for example, composting toilets]
13. Locally treated at Featherston WWTP then pump to another scheme for effluent disposal [land/water]
14. Existing ponds with an ocean outfall
15. Combined Wairarapa Scheme – a new WWTP, servicing Greytown, Martinborough and Featherston
16. Emerging treatment solutions [for example organica or aerobic granular sludge].

Earlier report from LDR
The latest $37million estimate for Featherston’s long-delayed wastewater treatment plant has been described as “mindboggling” by South Wairarapa’s Deputy Mayor, Garrick Emms. The price tag was revealed during a heated debate with councillors and senior staff from Wellington Water in Martinborough last week. The estimate exceeds the $31 million budget set out for wastewater treatment upgrades in all three South Wairarapa towns – Featherston, Greytown, and Martinborough, in 2015.

Speaking at last week’s assets and services committee meeting, Emms challenged WW boss Colin Crampton on the estimate, and the creeping price of other water projects since the company took over management of the district’s waterworks last year. Emms said the changes in pricing tested the credibility of both the council and the company. “In terms of credibility, that makes us look absolutely ridiculous. “The credibility of the estimate at Featherston of $37m, it’s mindboggling. We have to go back and talk to our ratepayers, and say “our advisors say it’s $37m. And that is the problem with this sort of approach.”

WW chief executive Colin Crampton said WW had, when taking over the management in October 2019, taken the pricing of water projects in the district at “face value”. This included the Featherston plant, and sewage works at Papawai, near Greytown, and Pinot Grove in Martinborough. The latter two had resulted in a total upward revision of more than $1.5m, close to double the original amounts. Crampton said in both of those cases, “we then realised there wasn’t enough scoping done on either of those projects or the risk we were carrying. We stopped work on those projects and did a Level 4 estimate [usually a pre-tender estimate to provide an accurate preview of the tender figure] to find the true scope. We’ve then gone out to tender and they came to the true cost we estimated to. If you go back and look at the history of the projects, when you go back to your LTP, you will see they were significantly underestimated. They both deserved to be put through a proper estimate process right from the beginning.

“If we had our time again, councillors, when we inherited those two projects, it’s the very first thing we would have done.”

Reasons given by WW staff for the increased costs included anticipating enhanced standards for water treatment, and changes in policy since the consent process began.

Harry Wilson, SWDC chief executive, said the council had been “remiss” in “not catching up” WW on the full history of some projects. Wilson said the problem was underbudgeting, rather than overspending.

SWDC has a stated goal to irrigate wastewater to land by 2041, to stop sewage going into the protected Wairarapa Moana ecosystem and connected waterways.

The three towns had been using oxidation ponds built in the early 1970s, which cannot effectively remove nutrients, then dumping the treated water into local rivers and streams.

Consents for the first two projects were granted by Wellington Regional Council in 2015. Both have since opened, and sewage from those towns goes on to land.

Featherston’s consent has been in limbo since comprehensive public opposition during consultation in 2017 and 2018. The amount mentioned for the Featherston project exceeds the plan for all three towns, and is more than the cost of Masterton’s Homebush plant. Homebush, designed to accommodate a population 10 times that of the Wairarapa gateway town, was originally priced at $21m, in 2009. Six years later, the total debt for project was confirmed as $36m during a council meeting.

Carterton District Council has devoted at least $6m to its sewage works at Dalefield.

Targeted wastewater rates for South Wairarapa properties connected to the mains stands at $602, up from $412 in 2014/15. It is projected to rise to projected to rise to $800 annually in 2043, by which time SWDC aims to discharge all its sewage to land. Featherston residents were to see the latest plans at the town’s Garrison Bar last night.

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