The Southland District Council is back to square one when it comes to finding a new location for Te Anau's new wastewater sewerage scheme, but that doesn't mean we, the ratepayer, should stop keeping a close eye on it.
It's to the fault of no-one — not the council, not Fiordland Sewerage Options — that last week the owners of the alternative land site at Sinclair Road (aka the Smith Block) didn't want to move forward with selling their land. That's just business, and it's a fair step to say farewell to that chapter of Te Anau's search for its Prince Charming of a wastewater scheme.
However, that doesn't give ratepayers an excuse to sit back in apathy. I can't remind Southlanders enough that this will be a multi-million dollar project paid for through the pockets of ratepayers across Southland (not just Te Anau!). Additionally, this is one of many schemes across the district that are up for some kind of costly renewal. I think we can all agree that the council needs to learn how to get this right for the sake of the ratepayer down the line.
So with that, it might be a good idea to do a debrief on what lies ahead. It appears council staff are looking at a couple of options before they send a report to the council about next steps in May.
The first is returning to the Kepler Scheme next to the Te Anau-Manapouri Airport. This is arguably the easiest road to take for the council because the resource consent for the scheme has already been granted. A vote from the council is enough to restart the business case, albeit with some caveats.
Perhaps many of us would be relieved that a decision has been made and we can go on about our lives. But if the last three years were a bit foggy for you, this is a highly controversial option for many.
But it has already been consented – how did that happen? It happened because not enough people took enough interest in the process until it was so far down the track that it was virtually a done deal.
Fiordland Sewerage Options led the charge, appealing the scheme on the basis that the discharge would be disposed of next to the Te Anau-Manapouri Airport, that the project was a costly one, and additional concerns about the environment.
So is it the best deal for the ratepayer? Estimates from the council's own consultants last year put the capital expenditure of the Kepler Block at $12.8 million, while two Slee Block alternatives from March last year range from $7.8 to $10.3 million, although their operating expenditures are considerably higher than the Kepler's.
Indeed, the Slee Block and other alternatives that have already been listed may also be on the discussion board. But I'll be interested to see how patient the council is to scope out potentially cheaper options when the allure of an all-set consented scheme is lingering in the back of everyone's minds.
Maybe this is a good time to start fresh. The trees across Fiordland are turning a new leaf with the coming of autumn, why can't this project? In last week's article the council's chief executive Steve Ruru indicated that this, too, could be a possibility.
We've all heard reports of state-of-the-art systems overseas where wastewater goes in one end and potable water comes out the other. With such innovation now available, it would be a shame if we didn't take a hard look at all the options, regardless of cost. What a way to leave a legacy for the region.
So what do you want Southland? Get on with what we have consented and construct the bloody scheme already? Spend more time looking at cheaper alternatives? Flex our creative muscles and see what the best of technology has to offer?
If you have an opinion, tell your councillor (and the council) what you think. It's your money they're handling and they're here to represent you.