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The council voted on Tuesday to force households and businesses to connect to the now completed $46 million scheme, with statutory provisions for "coercive measures", whereby it will connect properties and then charge the property owner.
Staff noted that many properties had already had 10 years to connect.
Those already given notice by the council now have three months from receipt to prove they have at least engaged a plumber or drainlayer.
Crs Tania Gibson and Allan Gibson voted against the measure.
Cr Allan Gibson said "I don't care what the law is" but anything that allowed the council to dig up ratepayers' property would not get his vote.
The estimated cost of $3000 per property to connect, as contained in the staff report, was well out: "It can cost up to $5500 in Dobson," Cr Gibson said.
Chief executive Paul Pretorius said the cost of individual connections depended on distance from the street: "We don't know what it costs."
Cr Tania Gibson said the $3000 estimate was also "grossly under" and she knew of some property owners who had paid $12,000 to separate the sewage and stormwater in order to connect.
Staff noted the council would be liable for environmental non-compliance prosecution if it did not act, namely for sewage continuing to leak into the Grey River via the stormwater system.
The recommendation to force connections did insert a 'compassion clause' that some older and low-income ratepayers would find it difficult but they would have to prove a case.
Mr Pretorius said the council had to "bite the bullet," subject to final legal advice.
There would be a three-month timeline under the new operational procedure for property owners to demonstrate they were doing something.
"If they, for instance, had a three-month connection period and they don't, and we do it on their behalf, they get an invoice and on the 20th of the next month that is payable."
Administratively, any compulsorily commissioned connections could see delays of 65 to 70 days to recover costs and councillors needed to appreciate it would be "hard to manage," he said.
"The best thing would be for a property owner to get it done. Notwithstanding any urgency on this whole thing, I still believe this is a five to six-year process, not because anybody is dragging their feet but because it's a massive process."
Environmental services manager John Canning said staff would be "drip-feeding" connection notices at possibly 50 a week, depending on the ability of local plumbers and drainlayers to carry the workload.
"Our plan is to control the pace of it however long it takes to get those 2500 people through."
"The worst and the oldest" non-complying properties would be contacted first, Mr Canning said.
Otherwise, the district council faced prosecution from the West Coast Regional Council.
Cr Peter Haddock said property owners with "a genuine reason" such as financial hardship or lack of capacity to commission trades people could seek council assistance.
The task of connecting "will be stressful" and council had to recognise that.
But it was also in a dilemma as it was still discharging sewage "illegally" into the river.
"We've got many people in our community who are living hand to mouth and council has resolved to deal with them on a case by case (basis)," Cr Haddock said.
- By Brendon McMahon