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Study of separate mortuary waste disposal defeated

A MOVE to continue investigating the removal of mortuary and funeral home waste from the city’s wastewater stream for discharge to land was defeated after a heated debate at Gisborne District Council’s environmental planning and regulations committee meeting.

After a division was called by councillor Craig Bauld, the vote of Mayor Meng Foon made the difference in the defeat of a motion to adopt a staff report and proceed with a feasibility study on the separation and land treatment of mortuary and funeral home fluid wastes from the city’s wastewater stream.

Mr Foon, who was there in his ex-officio status on all committees, cast the deciding vote in the 5-4 outcome after the eight committee members present were evenly split 4-4.

Strategic planning manager David Wilson said there had been concerns for some time about mortuary water discharged into the bay through the wastewater system.

It was a possible stumbling block, should the council decide to discharge the wastewater on to wetlands.

The wastewater technical advisory group had started work on how to exclude mortuary waste water from the wastewater stream. The paper before the committee was intended to raise awareness that this work had been started.

The staff paper said it was anticipated that waste products would be discharged to on-site holding tanks prior to discharge into a septic tank system and dispersal leach field at Taruheru Cemetery.

Josh Wharehinga said he was happy to move the adoption of the paper because it was about feasibility and getting more information.

Craig Bauld said the council was talking about cultural sensitivity gone mad, about money spent for no good reason and sensitivities that if they ever existed, did so hundreds of years ago and certainly did not exist with 'normal' families today.

“I don’t want us to proceed with it. I think it should stop,” he said.

Bill Burdett, chairman of the wastewater management committee, said with this was going to be a major issue for the council and the district. Iwi were united on this and the council should proceed with the feasibility study.

Rehette Stoltz said she was quite happy for the council to proceed but wanted it to be sure it got all the appropriate information, such as from funeral directors.

Committee chairwoman Pat Seymour said this was much wider than just the mortuary and funeral directors — there were implications for the whole community. The recommendations should include clearly that the feasibility study should proced.

Mr Wharehinga said he was happy to add that to the motion he had moved. Seconder Meredith Akuhata-Brown agreed.

Mr Bauld asked for a division.

Alan Davidson said even though he did not go all the way with Mr Bauld, he had reservations as to where this would stop.

Mr Wilson said this had arisen out of concerns from tangata whenua about body fluids from dead people going into the bay.

Medical officer of health Bruce Duncan said a lot of the issues had already been addressed, including hospital waste, several years ago.

There was a clear direction from tangata whenua that waters used for washing bodies were tapu and had to be respected and dealt with appropriately. If they were included in the waste stream it would invalidate any processes the council would use in wetlands. There were still a number of discussions to be had and questions to be answered.

Mr Foon said the BTF plant was supposed to transform wastewater from human to neutral. Was the plant working to ensure the cultural needs of the community were met?

Mr Burdett said in terms of tikanga and cultural belief, this was what the council had to work through.

Votes to proceed with the study were recorded by Meredith Akuhata-Brown, Josh Wharehinga, Amber Dunn and Rehette Stoltz.

Those against were Pat Seymour, Alan Davidson, Andy Cranston, Craig Bauld and the Mayor.

Bill Burdett could not vote as he is not a committee member.

File picture by Liam Clayton