Landfill spill: 'Govt didn't step in early'

Volunteers pick up rubbish where a disused Fox River landfill spilled litter on the West Coast....
Volunteers pick up rubbish where a disused Fox River landfill spilled litter on the West Coast. Photo: RNZ
Volunteers who have done most of the clean-up work on the Fox River to date say they would not still be there, let alone racing against the clock, if the Government had acted sooner.

From this week, a large contingent of New Zealand Defence Force personnel and vehicles have been helping clear rubbish where a disused Fox River landfill split open in March, but Kay Palmer, of Nelson, was unsure why that took nearly four months.

Environment Associate Minister Eugenie Sage.
Environment Associate Minister Eugenie Sage.
‘‘It was late. This whole thing happened late. It should have happened straight away but Government didn’t step in early,’’ she said.

‘‘We’ve got the numbers now but this should have happened months ago.’’

Westland resident Mike Bilodeau first organised the clean-up in March before it was taken over by the Department of Conservation (Doc) last month, with help from the defence force.

Off the back of his work on the Fox River, Mr Bilodeau is now in the Philippines, advising the Boracay Environment Foundation as they tackle crippling pollution on one of the world’s most famous holiday islands.

He said the Government definitely should have acted quicker to solve Fox Glacier’s problems.

‘‘It would have been cheaper and it would have been more effective. It would have been cleaned out - like this could have been cleaned up in five weeks - and they could learn from it and then use what they learn to deal with all the other mentors around the country.’’

Other landfills near waterways, of which Local Government New Zealand estimates there are 112, were his second concern.
Environment Associate Minister Eugenie Sage in April said they would be investigated.

However, Mr Bilodeau said not much had happened, and Ms Sage should be dealing with them as a matter of national emergency.

‘‘It’s just really irresponsible, especially when you see the scale of it. And now everybody knows that there’s landfills . . . hundreds of them, around the country. They’re ticking time bombs that are just waiting to open and destroy New Zealand’s coastal environment.’’

Volunteer Warner Milne said he was also worried about whether enough was being done to protect other vulnerable seaside landfills.

‘‘This should be a lesson to councils, to environmental boards, to governments to take a look — see if you can remember where you hid that [rubbish] because it’s not really hidden, you know.’’

Ms Sage said with about 100 tonnes collected to date Operation Fox was making good progress and she denied the defence force response came too late.

‘‘I think people who make that comment don’t appreciate that it’s very easy to mobilise one person or few people who live locally, but when you’re mobilising defence force personnel from around New Zealand and their equipment, that has to take a bit longer,’’ she said.

‘‘I am delighted that the defence force came and they sent their reconnaissance team, they worked out what resources were required, what logistics were needed, and now they’ve got people on the ground really helping.’’

Landfills were the responsibility of councils, she said, but Doc had stepped in on this occasion after the Westland District Council called for help.

As for other at-risk landfills, an expert panel was continuing to investigate them as part of wider climate adaptation work.

‘‘Yes, there’s significant liabilities there, but there’s no silver bullet solution sitting on the shelf,’’ Ms Sage said.

‘‘This is a legacy issue. We’ve all created the waste collectively. I’m working as associate minister for the environment with ministry officials on a big programme to reduce waste going to landfills, but that takes time for society and the economy to change.’’ 


"....but when you’re mobilising defence force personnel from around New Zealand and their equipment, that has to take a bit longer...."

So when another country decides to invade New Zealand, it will take the Defence Force 4+ months to organize their gear and respond..

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