Wastewater fix will be the project of the decade

The group that will lead the way in devising the best way to dispose of Palmerston North’s treated sewage in future is being set up.

Formation of the project steering group that will review the “best practicable option” for wastewater management was agreed by the city council’s new planning and strategy committee on Monday.

Mayor Grant Smith said it marked “the start of the journey” on a project that has been estimated as likely to cost ratepayers between $35 million and $140m to implement.

“This is going to be the biggest decision this council will make for a couple of decades,” he said.

The wastewater review process was agreed between Horizons Regional Council and the city council last year.

The city agreed to apply for a new resource consent by 2022, six years earlier than the current consent runs out, in exchange for Horizons dropping a legal case against it.

Horizons had accused the city of breaching its consent because the discharge was found to be causing more harm to the life-supporting capacity of the Manawatu River than expected.

A commissioners’ hearing into the case was abandoned after Smith helped broker an agreement that would get the process out of court.

The steering group will be made up of the mayor, councillors Brent Barrett, Susan Baty, Duncan McCann and Bruno Petrenas, chief executive Paddy Clifford, City Future general manager Sheryl Bryant, chief financial officer Grant Elliott, City Networks general manager Ray Swadel and two Rangitane representatives.

There will also be a community representatives group set up with an independent chairman or chairwoman.

The project steering group has to start on the review by May next year, and to provide Horizons and other parties with a series of milestones it will achieve in the following 12 months.

Water and waste service manager Robert van Bentum said the review, including investigation of land-based treatment and disposal options, would be a major investment.

“This will be one of the largest projects for the council over the next decade, with a significant impact on council’s long-term financial position,” he said.

“It is imperative that the project is set up and managed in a robust and professional way.”

He said Audit New Zealand would be watching progress closely in light of other projects around New Zealand that had run in to trouble because of poor governance and management.

The project steering group would start meeting before Christmas.

It would start looking for technical advisors for the project, with a view to appointing a dedicated project manager early in 2017.

Its other task would be arranging a system of community engagement, and working out how to set up the community representatives group.

Text by Janine Rankin / Retrieved from Stuff