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Mortuary waste problem back to council staff

THE contentious issue of mortuary waste being separated from the city’s wastewater stream has been passed over to district council staff after the wastewater management committee wrestled with it for more than an hour.

The committee passed a motion instructing staff to continue investigating the removal of sensitive waste, including mortuary waste. A project scope is to be brought to the committee’s next meeting.

The decision followed a general consensus among committee members that more discussion involving the whole community was needed.

Last month the council’s environmental planning and regulations committee declined to receive a report on the removal of mortuary waste, which effectively ended the subject.

The wastewater management committee was presented with the option of two staff recommendations — to proceed or not to proceed with the removal of mortuary waste.

Roger Haisman moved the option of not proceeding but there was no seconder. A motion to proceed with the removal of the waste was moved by Pene Brown and Ronald Nepe, who after discussion agreed to have that amended to one asking staff to scope the project.

Importance of separating mortuary wasteAlso before the committee was a paper from committee member Ray Farmer, who was not present. He asked the committee to petition councillors on the importance of providing a bylaw to regulate the separation of mortuary waste from the main sewage reticulation system.

Mayor Meng Foon gave an extensive review of the history of the resource consent that enabled the wastewater plant to be built, and the tikanga (customs) Maori had in disposing of body fluids.

The wastewater plant already dealt with fluids from people who were alive and a lot of human waste went through the plant, he said.

He questioned the need to separate fluids of dead people from those of the living in the wastewater plant and in a wetland if that was chosen as the best way to dispose of wastewater to land.

Technically the biotrickling filter plant worked well as there were no traces of human tissue at the end of the process. He had spoken to pakeke (elders) who said they saw no difference between the body fluids of dead people and those of the living.

Richard Brooking said there was a lot of emotion behind this issue. He favoured more discussion. Strategic planning manager David Wilson said staff were seeking direction from the committee.

Pene Brown said this was a sensitive issue. The separation of body wastes from the waste stream would be appreciated by European and Maori. Maori had considered a list of sensitive fluids that they did not want to see in the wastewater system such as oil. Body fluids were only one item on this list.

Amber Dunn said this discussion was premature and a full feasibility study was required. The aim was to create an environmental and culturally acceptable disposal system.

Roger Haisman said the committee was overstepping its authority. The discussion had only come about because some people did not like the decision made by the environmental planning and regulations committee. No committee of the council could overturn the decision of another committee. Only the full council could do that.

Chairman Bill Burdett said the whole community should be involved in this issue. The committee had done well to get to its decision.