Sewage spills in the St Mary’s Bay area are an unhappy consequence of a single and ancient pipe carrying both sewage and stormwater, overflowing in almost any amount of rainfall. For many years, to address this problem, there has been a limited amount of separation within properties, as new builds and major renovations have been required to install two separate sewerage pipes – one for stormwater and one for wastewater – to the property boundary, and in more recent time some form of sump or holding tank. Council figures on such separation are, by its own admission, inaccurate. But it gets worse – the separated pipes on these properties are separated only to the road frontage; from there the stormwater and sewage still flow into a single pipe where sewage becomes mixed with stormwater, and after any significant rainfall the system cannot cope with the extra stormwater and the contents are discharged into the Waitemata Harbour.
The Auckland Council (Healthy Waters) St Mary’s Bay/Masefield Beach water project never included separation, but the SMBA has been arguing for it for many years. Not only will separation be less expensive and at the same time renew the failing underground pipes, mostly installed around 1900, it will stop all sewage spills into the harbour (except in extreme events).
When Healthy Waters first began it’s “public consultation” on the St Mary’s Bay/Masefield Beach project it sounded like a fine idea. Pretty pictures, but short on detail.
On May 31 2018 the St Mary’s Bay Association and the Herne Bay Residents called a public meeting so residents could understand the implications and ask questions. A vote from the 120 people who attended called for suspension of the St Mary’s Bay/Masefield Beach project pending an informed assessment of pipe separation and a peer review of the project. That did not happen.
Then about three weeks before submissions closed on 19 June 2018, full details were revealed in a huge document with more than 20 appendices. As a small voluntary organisation we had to come to grips with geotechnical reports, odour reports and many others.
The St Mary’s Bay Association was faced with raising a very large amount of money to find and fund expert witnesses to challenge the council’s resource consent application. We called an urgent meeting of submitters to seek funds, and as a sign of people’s concern and generosity, we raised enough to cover our costs.
Unfortunately, the commissioners ruled in favour of the Council and granted the resource consent. The St Mary’s Bay Association and Herne Bay Association (jointly) together with various individuals have appealed this decision, and last month attended a mediation in the Environment Court. Our arguments fell on deaf ears, but during the course of the mediation we received the joint letter from Auckland Council and Watercare agreeing to separation.
Now we must decide our next steps: do we continue on to a full hearing in the Environment Court; and/or do we simultaneously embark on a political lobbying and information campaign?
Either way, it will cost money (especially the Environment Court option) and the association will need to seek more funding from members. This situation has a parallel in the consent for the Vic Park Tunnel. Originally there was to be no tunnel and instead 12 lanes of motorway which would have encroached onto the St Mary’s Bay park. The association had to door knock to raise the necessary funds to successfully push for a tunnel rather than a much wider motorway. It’s time to do that again.