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Moanataiari remediation – questions remain unanswered

The whole question of Moanataiari has slipped off the radar as far as the public is concerned, but it will not go away – far from it.

There was an element of fear evident around the table at the Council on 1 August when a high powered ‘Governance Group’ representing the various agencies with an interest in the outcome of current investigations into health risk and remediation options met. Regardless of the stated primary concern being about health risk, it is clear that this group is looking closely at the potential financial risk to their respective organisations, and minimising any potential threat of litigation now or in the future. And the legal ramifications do not stop there – the possibility of a class action relating to the original Thames approval will certainly be foremost in the minds of all concerned, though it is of course the ‘matter about which the name must not be spoken’ (with apologies to Oscar Wilde!). More about financial concerns later…………

The residents have been kept informed at regular weekly briefings for which co-ordinators Francois Pienaar, Ben Day and the Council generally deserve considerable praise. It was predictable that the numbers of residents wishing to attend and engage would disappoint - Ben Day claimed that they had around 50% engagement, but this was later refuted by a member of the Residents Group who indicated less than 30% engagement, and strong opposition by many who consider the entire process “an extravagant solution to an ‘over-cooked’ problem”.

Be that as it may, the various authorities concerned are obliged to follow a ‘maximum’ health and safety course, and it is certain that regardless of attempts to utilise alternative scales and values, and mysterious ‘bio-accessibility’ rates, the  necessity to proceed to a full Health Risk Assessment costing some $80,000 in addition to the $475,000 already committed is now irrefutable.

This will extend well beyond the 20 soil samples on which current thinking is based, and reflects the apparent desire to by-pass national standards that for a considerable time have supported a maximum 20ppm level for arsenic, never mind other heavy metals including lead and cadmium that are also considered a risk. This search for alternatives scales is disturbing unless they can be backed up by peer reviewed scientific research – the existing scale was presumably set at 20ppm for good reason, and ad hoc deviation is always a risk.   

The Assessment involving extended sampling is to be undertaken in order to provide the community with a full understanding of the risk to human health, and will need to be completed by February 2013 “in order for remedial action to be taken before the current funding round runs out.” There is no assurance however that such funding would cover anywhere near the entire remediation that may be required, or that there is any possibility of completion within the proposed time scale. But only when the Assessment is completed will the Governance Group be in a position to make specific remediation option proposals for residents to consider.

Each resident will need to approve whatever is proposed for their particular property, and this may vary greatly depending on levels of contamination, and the degree of difficulty associated with each remediation. The mind boggles in regard to some situations, particularly on the far more contaminated eastern side of the sub-division. The other matter that must surely be exercising minds relates to what will happen to the rest of Thames where contamination is known, or suspected. The Mayor, under questioning at the November Civic Centre briefing, gave an assurance that tests would proceed elsewhere as soon as the Moanataiari situation had been resolved. He may now be regretting that hasty promise.

My Moanataiari informant justly asks the question as to why his suburb has been “picked on” in the light of the known effects elsewhere. He was naturally concerned at a reported substantial, but un-quantified drop in property values. Further, a question from Dell Hood – Hamilton Medical Officer of Health as to the anticipated or potential resident liability for remediation was brushed aside by the acting Chair – CEO David Hammond, as being entirely premature, even unwelcome. Both he and the Mayor (who attended the meeting), were at pains to deny that any accurate financial modelling was possible or desirable at this stage of proceedings. 

But regardless of official reluctance to go there, it will be the question on the lips of every resident as options are developed and work-shopped over the next few weeks. No matter what residents may be finally asked to cough up, there is no doubt in my mind that Thames, and perhaps the entire District is looking down the barrel of substantial rate increases to cover its share of the potential remediation costs. Every option canvassed to date suggests that millions may be required to put this genie back in the box (landfill?). And that is just Moanataiari.  

At the rate of borrowing proposed over the next few years in its recently adopted ten year plan, our Council will have very little capacity to raise the funds necessary from that source, and its ability to do so for this purpose may in any case be severely restrained by the Local Government Act. Thames may well be looking a similar scenario to that now being played out in Christchurch, and the sooner some conclusions are reached in this regard, the better for all concerned. .

A staff ‘Discussion Point” in the Project Progress Report for the 20 June meeting, stating “There has been negative publicity about the project, (and) communications will be focused on the good news stories” is not acceptable. Everyone in this town is entitled to know both the good and the bad news. We are big boys and girls, and we are quite capable of understanding what lies around the corner. Just give us the unvarnished truth please, and not just the residents of Moanataiari. The open nature of the Governance Group meeting is to be applauded, but it does not stop there. The recent advent of a substantial public relations division within the ‘reorganised’ council structure has its downside.  




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Reader Comments (1)

Just one comment on Council spindoctors. Communications department during the recent restructure actually increased in numbers to four full time equvalents, ably assisted by a small team of "consultants". Its a far cry from a couple of years ago when one communication staff member sufficed and staff were trained to do their own media. Are staff no longer trusted to do this?

August 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDream On

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