Separation good, tunnel bad

The good news:

  • Auckland Council has committed to doing the sensible thing – separating the sewage and stormwater pipes in St Mary’s Bay (and Herne Bay) properties. Essentially this will mean no sewage spills into the harbour (outside of rare, extreme events) and therefore no sewage wash-back on to the local beaches.  Separation is international best practice, and it should also mean a saving to ratepayers.

The bad news:

  • Council’s Healthy Waters division still plans to proceed with the installation of a huge (1.8m) tunnel under the pohutukawa-clad cliffs in the St Mary’s Bay park. Residents fear that this could destabilise the cliffs and are also opposed to the odour stacks and other structures which the council claims will still be needed.

The St Mary’s Bay Association is delighted by the decision to separate sewage/stormwater pipes, but contends that there is now no need to build the tunnel under the cliffs.

The reason: the original $44 million project, known as the St Mary’s Bay/Masefield Beach water project, was designed to hold all overflows from the combined sewage/stormwater (more than 100 times a year) in the large tunnel, to prevent spills into the harbour, especially after heavy rainfall.  But now that the area is to have separate sewage/stormwater pipes a tunnel that size is not needed and, in fact, a smaller tunnel just for stormwater could be built elsewhere.

Separation will probably cost council about $35million (less than the original project) so why waste money on building an unnecessarily large tunnel, when the key reason for the earlier project has gone?

Late last year the St Mary’s Bay Association submitted against the approval of resource consent for the council project and raised a large sum from members to fund expert witnesses who could challenge the resource consent application. A total of 87 submissions were received – only two for the project and two neutral. However, the consent was granted and in February SMBA went to mediation in the Environment Court (at further cost).  That was also unsuccessful, largely because council (Healthy Waters) was unwilling to reconsider its decision to continue with the tunnel.

In deciding the appeal, the Environment Court is required to consider only the original resource consent proposal, which in our view has been completely superseded by the plan for pipe separation.  The project has been so modified that we believe that the original proposal is no longer applicable.

On March 14 the St Mary’s Bay Association and the Herne Bay Residents Association (HBRA) made joint presentations to the Waitemata Local Board and Auckland Council on upcoming funding decisions relating to the Auckland Council’s annual budget. The two associations called for:

  • Provision in the 2019/2020 budget for separation of stormwater/wastewater in the St Mary’s Bay/Herne Bay catchments
  • No further expenditure on the tunnel project and investigation and implementation of less expensive and less intrusive local stormwater collection and treatment.

At a special meeting of members on March 13, SMBA chair David Abbott encouraged all members to lodge their own submissions on the council’s 2019/2020 budget.

On March 20, at a meeting of the Community Liaison Group of the Western Isthmus programme – a joint Watercare (wastewater) and Healthy Waters (stormwater) enterprise, the SMBA and HBRA asked for a meeting with engineers to discuss the engineering case for Healthy Waters’ rationale of continuing with the tunnel as a stormwater-only pipe, instead of adopting cheaper and less intrusive alternatives.

In response, Watercare proposed an informal meeting on April 10 of all parties, but without legal representation, to explore settlement possibilities and to discuss engineering arguments.  The discussions are ongoing.

Unless significant progress towards a settlement is made by May 1 the Environment Court is likely set a date for the appeal hearing, at a conference of the parties in the week commencing May 6.  It is likely to be sometime in July.

We must now decide our next move:

  • As the council appears to have agreed to separation do we still proceed to a full Environment Court hearing? This will mean more fund-raising, with no certainty of a favourable outcome.
  • Do we seek a political solution, lobbying councillors and others?

We’ve already received a significant sum from generous donors in our community, but expenses to date have taken up three-quarters of the amount collected. Now we need:

  • First tranche to put expert evidence in front of Healthy Waters. We hope to persuade Healthy Waters, that a re-review of the tunnel project is appropriate.
  • Second tranche. In the event that we are unsuccessful in seeking a re-review we will have to prepare expert evidence and engage a barrister to present our appeal in the Environment Court in July.


If you are willing to support your community and the work of the volunteers on the SMBA committee, please make a bank transfer to:

St Mary’s Bay Association Inc Fighting Fund
(Include your name and address as reference)

Your support would be greatly appreciated.

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