Community rejects sludge

Members of the Luggate Community Association, including (from left) Sue Orbell, president Geoff Taylor and Judy Thompson, have relayed to the Queenstown Lakes District Council their community's opposition to a proposal for a sludge drying plant and biosolid dispersal on land near the town. Photo by Lucy Ibbotson.
Members of the Luggate Community Association, including (from left) Sue Orbell, president Geoff Taylor and Judy Thompson, have relayed to the Queenstown Lakes District Council their community's opposition to a proposal for a sludge drying plant and biosolid dispersal on land near the town. Photo by Lucy Ibbotson.
Luggate residents have sent a clear message to the Queenstown Lakes District Council that a sludge drying plant and the fertiliser it produces are not welcome in their backyard.

Results of a survey show the majority of the community do not support hosting a new plant on Luggate's outskirts to dry Wanaka sludge before spreading it on neighbouring farms, as proposed by the council in partnership with Fulton Hogan.

Known as Project Groundswell, the proposal was made public in September and a drop-in session was held to provide more information to the community.

An October open day at the proposed plant site on the Luggate-Tarras highway and a public meeting in the Luggate Hall in November did little to allay residents' concerns about how the plant and the application of biosolids to land nearby would affect the town.

During late December and early January, a Project Groundswell survey was hand-delivered to residents in Luggate and surrounding areas by Luggate Community Association members.

A report summarising the survey results, titled ''Luggate Community Response to Project Groundswell Proposal'', was sent to the district council and Fulton Hogan yesterday, and provided to the Otago Daily Times.

It shows just 7% of the 218 respondents are in favour of both the drying plant and farm land disposal, while 33% are in favour of the drying plant without land disposal. Fifty-three percent disagree with the proposal in full.

''In view of the lack of support for the proposals indicated by the survey, and the strong opposition expressed at public meetings and in the press, we urge the council to reconsider the scheme,'' Graham Halliday and Judy Thompson wrote in the report on behalf of the community association.

The community considered it better to build a drying plant next to Wanaka's Project Pure treatment plant at the airport to avoid the ongoing cost to ratepayers of transporting sludge on a 12km round trip to Luggate.

''We recommend the council investigate this option, which appears to make economic, engineering and environmental sense,'' the report stated.

Spreading the dried sludge on food-producing land was ''unacceptable'' to Luggate residents, as it had been to other New Zealand communities that had been consulted.

Disposal on forestry land - an option favoured by environmental microbiologist Dr Jacqui Horswell at December's public meeting - was worthy of further investigation.

Fulton Hogan Central Otago regional manager Alan Peacock said the company was ''on the verge'' of lodging its consent application with the Otago Regional Council to build and operate the drying facility.

It would be a minimum of two years before any biosolids would be produced from the plant, ''so there's plenty of time there to investigate options of land disposal''.

Fulton Hogan had taken on board community views and addressed those as best it could in its application.

''So effectively now it's just a case of following the process, which is what the resource management act is all about.

''We'll put the application in and people will be given their opportunity to voice their concerns or otherwise.

''At the end of the day we're responding to a tender put out by the Queenstown Lakes District Council.''

District council communications adviser Michele Poole said 53% disagreement with both the drying facility and dispersal on farmland indicated there was ''roughly 50:50 support and opposition for the proposal'' within the community, similar to feedback received last year.

Community association president Geoff Taylor said while he personally was ''not frightened'' by the proposal, the results of the survey spoke for themselves.

''The community pretty well identified that they don't particularly want it.''

The association would formally lodge an objection to Fulton Hogan's consent application.

''But whether we can follow it through the court processes, I think it will be too expensive for us,'' Mr Taylor said.

- lucy.ibbotson@odt.co.nz