Paying for our own hanging?

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    When, a few months ago, council officials took back the Little Oneroa Stream problem and started putting up digital signage to tell visitors how toxic that particularly treasured, jewel-green beach was, seasoned Waiheke citizens could have taken bets that it wouldn’t be long before the city put a scheme forward for reticulation on the island.

    Not long at all, as it now happens.  

    Put in place by former chairman Paul Walden, the refreshed Essentially Waiheke planning document was completed over the past five years. Meanwhile, in Little Oneroa, the community working party organised by the Waiheke Waste Resources Trust to identify solutions to long-running issues in the catchment is perhaps on the eve of a low-tech and affordable solution.

    But the inconvenient existence of both these ratepayer initiatives is dismissed in new workshop powerpoint documents in which council officials assert – on no evidence at all – that Essentially Waiheke goals “may not all be achieved”. 

    Part of yet another planning exercise, successive local board workshops have now been presented with a pitch for varying levels of reticulation in Oneroa and Ostend at “high level” costs of between $30,000 and $120,000 per household.

    Achieving this pie in the sky would apparently need more monitoring and council officials say Waiheke will be one of the first areas to get a pilot “water quality targeted rate” for a “compliance monitoring scheme”.

    It’s a far cry from the Waiheke Local Board’s earlier backing for site-specific remediation of the Little Oneroa Stream catchment, including council help for ratepayers with consented but inadequate septic tanks and on-site water disposal. 

    Current Waiheke board chair Cath Handley acknowledged to Gulf News the sensitivity of the issue for the island community and said the figures officials had put forward were “not headed in the direction of reticulation”, which, anyway, might not happen for 30 years. 

    In reality, we have waited 30 years already for successive supercity engineers to come up with improvements on traditional septic tanks that we could trial to deal with the difficult corners, the low-lying properties and the arrival of high-consumer houses.

    And if we are sensitive to an issue which was specifically addressed, and dismissed, in Essentially Waiheke, successive Auckland supercity pundits have only themselves to blame. 

    The compulsory mess that was the Oneroa wastewater treatment plant at Owhanake in the 1990s beggared businesses, stalled smaller and more intelligent solutions and takes only “black water” anyway, leaving business ratepayers still reliant on septic tanks and costly pump-outs. 

    It was (and is reputed to remain) an engineering disaster and only a public outcry stopped city engineers from running its sewage overflow out into the middle of Oneroa Bay.

    There are woefully few monitoring figures in the new documents but it does show that Matiatia Bay – downstream from the Owhanake plant – has more than twice the E.Coli count recorded in Little Oneroa after wet weather. In dry weather, of all the beaches and streams, only the Onetangi stream exceeded the allowable 540 MPN in recent Safe Swim monitoring. 

    The briefing for the first wastewater workshop proposed three areas for reticulation: Oneroa through to Ostend, Onetangi and Rocky Bay. Total costs ranged from $90 million to $150 million, for fewer than 5000 dwellings and excluding rural pockets.

    A doubling of the population would make that $230 million, it said.

    The second workshop outlined more limited wastewater reticulation at Ostend and Oneroa only, with Watercare making connection mandatory.

    The authors said it would provide for future business growth with a tourism focus and for additional dwellings and visitor accommodation. Provisos included the possibility of water needing to be piped from Auckland and officers said that all capital costs would need to be recovered from the connecting population.

    Empowering high density, Gold Coast-style apartments and tourist activities on Oneroa’s beachfront, this would create development pressures that are chilling on an island where the council’s own public toilets are regularly closed and portaloos are, apparently, an appropriate response for summer.

    In the interim, the council’s trick of recruiting a narrative of environmental degradation to justify the insane expenditure would preclude any less overblown initiatives or engineered solutions. This is a sour hubris which would undoubtedly cause deep resentment on both sides and ensure the island and the Hauraki Gulf are the losers.

    Council’s power to smash the community with such brutally unrealistic development ambitions feels, well, nasty. The precious position we hold as a jewel in the gulf for both Auckland’s citizens and international visitors has an unmatchable value. • Liz Waters

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