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Blowout should put project in doubt

Opinion Piece

The councillors need to be brave and bold when they discuss the wastewater report at Thursday's meeting. The costings for the next stage of the Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrade were set out in the 2018 Long Term Plan at $23.4 million. In a report presented to the full council on September 26, 2019 the LTP figure of $24.38m was noted and the following written:

“The project team has a very strong focus on delivery of the most cost-effective upgrade solution. The aim is to save costs wherever possible to reduce this risk. Furthermore, external experts have been contracted to investigate key aspects of the upgrade proposal (e.g. solids disposal) with the intention of finding innovative means to reduce costs. A peer review of costs was carried out — costs are as accurate as can be expected at a concept level of design.”

“Houston, we have a problem” is a clear understatement. No amount of poring over the figures and the justification for the enormous budgeted cost increases will give much comfort to the already financially-wrung-out ratepayer. While the increase for the next 12 months is modest, wait for the following year when we start to have to pay for this budget blowout.

That the elected councillors need to take a long, hard look at where this project is heading is reinforced when the engineer's report setting out the areas where costs are increasing is considered. Approximately $3.8m is to be spent on tertiary disc filters for the lamella clarifier and these are apparently needed because the lamella on its own couldn't guarantee that the discharge would meet consent conditions — so why wasn't that picked up earlier and costed as part of the LTP?

But there's more. The report carefully notes that there are no known cases of lamellas being used post-BTF (which is the present plant) in New Zealand. So Gisborne is the guinea pig test? Do we really want that cutting-edge technology, proven only in the consultant's computer?

We really are in for a rough post Covid-19 period. An extra $9.1 million foisted on the ratepayer isn't exactly what is needed for recovery. Perhaps the councillors need to exhibit some fortitude and question whether this is the time to be embarking on this expensive capital project. They might also weigh up the real economic benefit to the district of clarification and UV treatment of the wastewater.

Gordon Webb