March 12 2019

Meeting Wednesday 13 at  7pm
Freeman’s Bay Community Hall
52 Hepburn St

Dear Member,

Update

The good news:

  • Council has committed to doing the sensible thing – separating the sewage and stormwater pipes in St Mary’s Bay (and Herne Bay) properties. This will mean zero sewage spills into the harbour 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.  A joint letter from Auckland Council CEO Stephen Town and CCO Watercare CEO Raveen Jaduram, received on March 7, announced council’s about-turn commitment to separate the pipes.

The bad news:

  • Council still plans to proceed with the installation of a huge (2.1m) tunnel under the pohutukawa-clad cliffs in the St Mary’s Bay reserve. Residents fear that this could destabilise the cliffs and are also opposed to the odour stacks 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 the combined sewage/stormwater in the large tunnel to prevent it spilling 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 St Mary’s Bay Association submitted against the approval of resource consent for the council project and raised more than $20,000 from members to fund expert witnesses to challenge the resource consent application.  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 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Court is required to consider only the original resource consent proposal, which in our view has been completely superseded by the plan for pipe separation.  In our view, the St Mary’s Bay/Masefield Beach water project has been so modified that the original proposal is no longer applicable.

We must now decide our next move:

  • Now that 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 need as many members as possible to attend tomorrow (Wednesday) evening’s meeting to help decide our next steps.

Background

The sewage spills 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 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.

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 $28,000-$30,000

to find and fund expert witnesses to challenge the council’s resource consent application.

A total of 87 submissions were received, with only two in favour and two neutral.  Prior to the resource consent hearing (by four commissioners), we called an urgent meeting of submitters to seek funds.  In a sign of people’s concern and generosity, we raised a total of $22,000.

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.

We’re simply a committee of nine volunteers.  We need our members to help us once again to preserve the environment – for us and our grandchildren.

We urge you to attend the Wednesday evening meeting and if you would like to contribute to this fighting fund, please donate by bank transfer to:

St Mary’s Bay Association Inc Fighting Fund
12-3019-0628993-51

Please include your name and address for identification.

Your support is greatly appreciated.

David Abbott
Chair