Dump wash out 'a coastal eco-disaster'

Photo: Supplied
Photo: Supplied
Forest & Bird has described rubbish-strewn South Westland beaches as possibly the ''biggest coastal eco-disaster since the Rena oil spill''.The huge co-ordinated clean-up will start properly today, helicopters and volunteers ready to strike south of the Waiho (Waiau) River.

Kevin Hague
Kevin Hague

The old buried Fox Glacier rubbish dump was scoured out last week by the flooded Fox River. The rubbish was washed into the Cook River and then carried down to the sea.

Forest & Bird chief executive Kevin Hague said central Government urgently needed to step in and provide leadership.

''We have spoken with the Ministry for the Environment and passed on our strong view that they must lead a co-ordinated central Government response.''

Okarito resident Mike Bilodeau, who is leading the volunteer clean-up effort, met local councils on Tuesday. He agreed with Fish & Game and confirmed they were trying to access government funding to help.

''There are currently massive trucks carrying diggers down here that can cross the Waiho easily and will be attacking the issue at the [Fox Glacier] dump. They're projecting 11 to 12 days to have the dump contained, if the weather stays on our side.''

Helicopters will be ready to take people to remote beaches on either side of the Waiho tomorrow, to start rubbish collection.

''We have bags, fadges, and heaps of volunteers,'' Mr Bilodeau said.

A large number of people were expected in Okarito today to help.

''Those of you south of the Waiho will have to wait for our assistance with the clean-up until Thursday.''

After eight days, frustration is growing.

Glacier tourist operators and West Coast Conservation Board members issued a statement and said the Westland District Council response had been inadequate and had to be scaled up as a matter of urgency.

''The on-the-ground response in South Westland is almost entirely comprised of volunteers - these volunteers are in urgent need of professional help, support and leadership.

''There is considerable anecdotal evidence that the remote beaches to the south of the Fox/Weheka River have been significantly impacted by landfill waste and will require a massive effort to clean up.''

The statement was compiled by the conservation board acting chairman Dr Keith Morfett, of Hokitika, with the assistance of two other conservation board members Barry Hughes and Dr Jonathon Clearwater, both Okarito residents.

Mr Bilodeau said yesterday he appreciated people's frustrations.

The Westland District Council said the eroded area of the dump was being lined with geo cloth and the riverbank filled in with rock. 

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