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Whitianga Bio-Solids Plant

Readers may need reminding of the wonderful new world of bio-solids processing that was to follow the installation of a second-hand plant imported from the UK - previous history unknown. This was to be able to digest and mix green waste with the residue from the Tarua-Pauanui Waste-water Plant on a continuous process. 

Firstly some history:

The plant was an idea that followed the commissioning of the waste-water plants in 2007/08, that was presented to Council at the time by John Whittle - Infrastructure Manager as a brilliant way to overcome the cost of transporting and disposing of the residue from the plants to the Tirohia Landfill.

There were severe misgivings around the table at the time arising from concerns about the viability of using a plant that had apparently not succeeded elsewhere, and the cost appeared to be 'open-ended' - there was considerable debate before Council finally agreed with the staff proposal to proceed with the purchase after an initial smaller "pilot" plant was put through its paces, but which was later removed in favour of the larger UK plant in 2009. 

When Tairua residents found out what was going on so close to residential areas, there was an outcry of considerable proportions, but the worst of it appeared to lie with the inability of staff to make the plant work to specification. There were other other issues concerned with the ability of Council to market the resultant 'compost' - both legal and health. Whatever the case, staff then proposed and achieved a move of the plant to Whitianga adjacent to that waste-water facility. 

Staff have now determined that further expenditure on the plant is now no longer justified - it has cost millions to date with little or no success other than to provide 580 tonnes of compost for Council reserves and gardens, which I guess is something, but hardly justifies the expenditure to date.

It was decided at the last Council meeting to close the plant, and its future looks extremely doubtful given the rapid deterioration that is likely to occur while sits unused. It is unlikely that there is any market for the plant elsewhere, though no doubt that option will be being explored. In the meantime Council apparently intends to continue with completing the audit requirements of its Resource Consent. 

It certainly represents one of the great failures of recent years, and as usual it is difficult to ascribe blame for what has occurred, although the 2007/10 Council will surely again need to put its hand up to takes its share. The fact that staff were extremely keen on the project should have been tempered with wiser heads around the table questioning the facts and figures that were presented.

People have simply not been prepared to use the stuff while any doubt remained as to its safety, and in any case there have been restrictions imposed by the Resource Consent. Why it has taken so long to arrive at the audit stage, and this conclusion is unknown.  

In the interests of establishing the precise cost to rate-payers of this further debacle, I put in a OIA in late October for which I have today received the following information:

1. What was the total capital and operational cost of the plant up until its move from Tairua?

"Total capex costs from 31 July 2007 (project inception) until 31 July 2012 was $1,599,741.56. This total capex cost includes resource consents, design, engineering and building work. The total opex costs from 31 July 2007 until  31 July 2012 was $469.99." 

2. What has been the total capital and operational cost of the plant since its move to Whitianga, including the cost of the move? 

"Total capex costs after 31 July 2012 are $1,174,171.31 and total opex costs after 31 July 2012 are $335,977.55."

3. What is the tonnage of the product used to date by council on parks and reserves?   

"587 tonnes have been used to date on Council parks and reserves."

4. Has any product been sold to the public, and if so how much, at what price, and if not why not? 

"None of the product has been sold to the public as under WRC Resource Consent (number 123769 - Discharge Permit), Council is to undertake an independent external QA audit to confirm that Council's procedures are in line with the initial AEE & Environmental Management Plan.

Council is currently seeking a suitable entity to undertake this audit as part of the long-term biosolids viability strategy. Once this is complete, biosolids may be applied to areas outside of the current TCDC designated area."

In short:

Total Capex - $2,774,000

Total Opex -  $344,000 

Total Tonnage Used - 587 tonnes

Note that although the essential decisions were made in 2007/10, the major of the expenditure took place in 2012, so the current Council cannot escape responsibility for allowing the latter stages of the project to proceed when there must surely have been doubts about its long-term viability.  

It appears from the reply that Council still harbours hopes of being able to operate the plant after the proposed audit, and being able to satisfy the requirements of the Resource Consent.

Having heard the discussion that took place in the Chamber, I harbour grave doubts as to whether it will ever satisfy the Consent, or find a market for the product, but what do I know?

It's either a 'dead duck,' or a 'white elephant' - your choice!




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Reader Comments (2)

Well buggar me - yet another lot of money spent in our town and nuthin to show for it.
Over 2m since 2012 spent by this Council on a dud project under Leach's watch [ can't blame previous Council for this one Leachy ]- add this to our foreshore woes [ Cooks, Brophys and Whangapoua], our multi sport [not] park and the Great Coastal walkways - spending the dosh big time on the eastern seaboard are our elected members-- but are our rates going to go up in the Bay as a result when these and other projects go tits up???
You betcha they will

December 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPipi

Hmm, at just over $5200 per tonne thats expensive fertiliser!

December 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSailing Away

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