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Wednesday
Nov232011

Moanataiari

You will be reading plenty of stuff elsewhere that has been gleaned in the main from press releases. I will attempt to cover other issues.

The first relates to the just how arsenic suddenly became an issue.

Tests taken in 2007 from the school site indicated a possible presence of heavy metals, but Environment Waikato did not regard these levels as sufficient to prioritise further widespread testing at that time. It had other problems, including the Tui Mine, a factory site in Cambridge, and sub-divisions on old orchards (arsenic spray contamination) around Hamilton that it regarded as having a higher priority.

They came back to Moanataiari this year, and conducted about 26 1.5m. hand auger tests, mainly on verges. These have shown completely different and variable results. Instead of heavy metals, they found extremely high levels of arsenic sloping from East to West over the entire area - highest on the Kuranui Road side. They checked old records and found that there had been an extra metre of topsoil added over the school site during reclamation that may have contributed to the earlier false indications. 

But before venturing further, let me outline what actually happened last evening.

In the first place, it should be acknowledged that it was probably one of the best organised public relation exercises I have seen in a long time. The hand of Ben Day, the new media man (ex. Christchurch) was obvious. He covered every angle, and there is no doubt that the 300 who attended felt that TCDC had done a great job in getting the message out, and in making a real effort in regard to openness and transparency on this extremely sensitive issue. I imagine that it was his idea to have weekly 'de-briefs' at the school (3.30pm each Thursday) to keep residents up to date with progress - good move, and I suspect well appreciated.

Minister Nick Smith's presence added gloss to the occasion, along with a bevy of bureaucrats from from every agency imaginable. He assured the audience that he would ensure that any application for the 50:50 subsidy from the 'contestable fund' would be processed without delay. But I am unsure as to just exactly the purpose/s for which this funding would be made available.

Here is his press release - make up your own mind!

The Mayor did have a blast at 'the media' at the outset for over-stating the problem, and presumably not sticking to the 'song sheet' that was made available at a press-call on Monday morning. Of course they were going to react to such a dramatic announcement, and put various slants on it. At least for a change I cannot have been in his sights on this one - I simply published their press release as it went up.

I am probably more cynical than most, so tend to look beyond the surface on these occasions. It may surprise the bureaucrats, but it is my belief that there were very few people present last evening who were there because they were concerned about their health. Many have lived for up to 36 years on the sub-division without ill-effect, and a fair degree of scepticism was evident. These people are able to recognise the signs of bureaucrats rushing to cover their backsides, and that indeed was what played out last evening.

I suspect that the majority of the 300 were there to find out who was going to take financial responsibility for correcting the situation, and ultimately, who would cover home owners for the loss of value of their major asset.  Answers to these questions were fudged, of course, by a well-meaning but ill-prepared Mayor,  who perhaps unwisely, decided to take the questions that arose at the end of the 'shiny-arsed' presentations.

The fudging arose, deliberate or otherwise, with regard to the 50:50 'contestable fund' to undertake 'property-specific investigations'. The Mayor was at pains to state that TCDC and the WRC would cover the 50% balance of this. The testing is to take place at three or four points on each property over the next four months. 

He was far less forthcoming when asked about the 'remediation' costs, and although the hand-out specifically indicated that the fund would also be available for 'remediation', he gave a fudged undertaking that most present would have understood as being covered in a similar manner, but it was certainly not clear. Regardless of the wording in the hand-out, I heard no undertaking from the Minister in this regard. Although the hand-out specifically states that the fund is available both for 'testing' and 'remediation', I question whether it was 'approved' by the Dept. of Environment. I would not 'hang my hat on it'.

Remediation would probably involve the replacement of the top layer of contaminate to varying depths over the most contaminated Eastern side at least. You have as much idea as I as to the cost, but it could be millions. One questioner raised the issue of the removal of soil from under houses on piles. Phew! Either way - 100% or 50%, ratepayers of this District (or Ward!) are in the gun - of that you can be sure; it is simply a question of scale.

Loss of asset value raised its ugly head as was to be expected, but there were no undertakings given in that regard, other than a bit of 'trust me' bluff  and bluster on the part of the Mayor who was at pains to avoid being 'put on the spot' on this. I think he realised that even he was unlikely to be able to calm concerns in that regard.

So the big questions remain unanswered, and I imagine there will be a great deal of thought being given today by residents as to how someone, anyone, can be made responsible for losses - actual, or potential. It would not be surprising if a there is a move to commence some kind of class action against the Council for having approved the sub-division in the first place. Though I can well remember being told when I first arrived here seven years ago to avoid Moanataiari like the plague because it was contaminated as a result of a totally inadequate 'cap' over the tailings reclamation.

It seems unlikely that people who have bought there would have been unaware of the risks - I believe that the LIM reports provide a specific warning, and this would inhibit the scope for claims against Council, but it could get very messy. 

Here is the TCDC Time Line Report re LIM Reports

As Nick Smith says, "undertaking a sub-division in this manner would be totally unacceptable today". The statement in the hand-out that the WRC "only learned of the Moanataiari reclamation in 2006" left me, and I suspect many others somewhat perplexed.

It was interesting to observe the manner in which the Mayor's blood pressure appeared to rise when the subject of A & J Price was raised. This has been a suspect contaminated site since JC was a boy, and the bare patches around the foundry are sure to be a target for analysis that could point to an even bigger problem that has nothing to do with 'tailings'. The proximity to a child care centre is of great concern, but you can bet that there will many who are wondering about the consequences of any great remediation work being required on the foundry site. I suspect that it would not take too much for the foundry's owners to simply call it quits and just walk away. Let us hope that is not the case.

The Mayor also promised eventual testing of surrounding suspect sites outside of the actual sub-division - this could go on for years, and the costs escalate by the day. I think there are many in the community who knew this day would eventually come, but just hoped it would stay away as long as possible.   

On the other hand, I think that what last evening's performance showed is the gap between the concerns of bureaucrats, and those of rate-payers. It was as if they occupy different galaxies, and you can bet that there will be a great deal of head scratching going on now both at TCDC and at WRC over who is going to pay the piper, and at TCDC as to whether this should be a ‘District-wide’, or ‘local (Ward)’ responsibility. Touché! 

 

 


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Reader Comments (2)

"Tests taken in 2007 from the school site indicated a possible presence of heavy metals, but Environment Waikato did not regard these levels as sufficient to prioritise further widespread testing at that time"

Actually the tests in 2007 were of marine sediment and show the highest levels of arsenic and mercury in the lower Firth were straight off Moanataiari.. Kuranui Bay is described as a " hot spot".

Having identified Moanataiari in 2007 as a site with potentially serious arsenic contamination, the Regional Council carried out just one land-based test that year. It’s taken another 5 years for a full testing regime to be done.

Not good enough

December 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDenis Tegg

All this fuss about heavy metal contaminated mine tailings! There are old 'mullock' heaps all round Thames. Very easy to see after any bushfire. Rain has been leaching through them and into the watercourses for a hundred years. Be careful where you draw your water supply from. The government departments of Energy and Economic Development are supporters of mining. This may mean they oppose the Commisioner for the Environment and DOC. In the past the Gov. has allowed mining without thought for the future and this has caused ratepayers and taxpayers to fund the millions of dollars needed to make the Tui mine at Te Aroha less dangerous this year. Shouldn't we be concerned that the Waihi mine tailings dam (so enormous that it can be found readily on Google) leads into the Ohinemuri river, then into the Waihou, and ultimately into the Firth of Thames. Will our inheritors have the same sort of residual problem as the Moanataiari-ites??.

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeter H. Wood

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