Councillor calls QLDC plant 'an embarrassment' as sewage spill stopped

by Kim Bowden - Jan 16, 2024

The flow of partially treated sewage into a wetland has been stopped by contractors at Queenstown's wastewater treatment plant but one Otago Regional councillor is calling for consequences.

ORC councillor Michael Laws says an abatement notice is overdue.

Dunstan councillor Michael Laws says a series of failures at the Queenstown Lakes District Council-owned facility are "an embarrassment" and the regional council has prosecuted local authorities for "much less".

On Monday QLDC scrambled to contain the unexpected overflow from one of its oxidation ponds, with the ORC's pollution team also on site to investigate what went wrong.

Some 420,000 litres of sewage estimated to have been through 80 percent of the normal treatment process channeled its way overland, under a fence, across a road and into a swampy patch of vegetation beside the Shotover River before it was stopped late Monday afternoon.

The authority has today been unable to offer a full explanation for what caused the latest incident at the problem-plagued plant.

However, acting QLDC infrastructure boss Simon Mason says "the weekend's heavy rain and a control system issue are likely to be the key issues".

He says the affected road has been "cleaned and sanitised" and he remains confident "the swamp" has "soaked up the spill", keeping the partially-treated sewage from "entering the river".

Other unrelated urgent repairs have been underway at the plant since December, on top of ongoing multi-million-dollar upgrades. Throughout, the sewage stink has been unbearable for many.

Councillor Laws says when he drove past on Monday "the place stank".

"I'm now trying to recall when the QLDC plant didn't stink."

He thinks it is time for the ORC to issue an abatement notice.

"Standing by and doing nothing isn’t an option when we’ve actually prosecuted local authorities for much less failing."

However, ORC compliance manager Tami Sargeant yesterday told Crux her team's priority for now is to "allow QLDC staff to focus their attention on remedial work" to address the issues at the plant.

In a written statement on Monday, Mr Mason said replacement parts from the United States were being installed at the plant (in response to earlier problems) and he expected the odour to lessen over the coming days and weeks.


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