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March storm remains costly for small council

March storm remains costly for small council

Three months after the storm that washed out 60 metres of riverbank and breached the capped Fox Glacier landfill, Westland District Council and its ratepayers are still bearing financial costs for their part of the clean-up work.

Rubbish still being collected is being taken back to the landfill in Hokitika, increasing costs to manage that facility, and the council continues to evaluate the cost and impact of the remediation of the old Fox Glacier landfill.

“We were extremely grateful that there were volunteers who got in there and started work right away,” says Chief Executive, Simon Bastion, “and really appreciative of the support from a number of organisations, businesses and individuals. Due to the destruction of the Waiho River Bridge, WDC was forced into using helicopters to ferry everyone around to the affected areas, which significantly escalated the costs. The helicopter companies needed to be paid, which used up a large part of our unbudgeted expenditure. At the same time, we arranged to pay our volunteer coordinator, contracting him and the other volunteers down there, and paying them a fair wage.”

Unbudgeted expenditure from the storm event is estimated to be $3.81 million, which covered a number of areas not only the Fox River landfill damage. Roading damage alone is expected to be in the vicinity of $2.5 million. We are working hard to recover costs with various agencies and expect WDC unbudgeted expenditure to be around $1 million. After a number of years of unexpected weather events, including two cyclones in early 2018, WDC emergency reserves are severely diminished. Council’s policy to keep rates down means that a targeted emergency reserve rate is not due to start until 2022. The $300,000 already received from central government assisted to offset some of the costs, but ratepayers will still have to carry a large portion of the ongoing costs.

We have done what we could do considering the resources we had available and requested help when we needed it. Thankfully our request to government was answered and DoC have picked up the clean-up. Westland District Council has not “walked away”; it continues to be responsible for the removal of rubbish recovered and will continue to monitor the area post clean up. We also retain responsibility for the ultimate solution to the remaining portion of the old landfill, which in itself could turn out to be a very expensive project.

Mr Bastion adds, “This is a large district, with one of the smallest ratepayer bases in the country. We can only rate for approximately 11% of the entire district due to the DoC estate being exempt from rates, which puts council at a severe disadvantage when attempting to build any financial reserves, let alone maintaining or improving current infrastructure. As a council we have made difficult decisions about where our funds are spent and the council’s decision under the Long Term Plan 2018-28 was to concentrate on the sustainability of our infrastructure.”

Along with the other councils in New Zealand, Westland District Council has been assisting the Ministry for the Environment and Local Government New Zealand to identify landfills close to rivers or the coast. A report identifying at-risk landfills will be put to council at the July meeting.

Difficulties in funding and meeting regulatory standards are not unique to Westland District, as acknowledged by the recent draft report from the Productivity Commission. Local government does not function in a vacuum. Support from central government is essential to assist local government to ensure the wellbeing of our communities.

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