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Hawaiki Turanga: time for action

Opinion Piece

It has been over two years since the walkway area at the mouth of the Waikanae Stream has had sections fenced off due to the discovery of elevated levels of asbestos and other contaminants, the result of dumping from a range of sources.

When the area was transferred from Eastland Port to GDC and designated public open space — and the venue for an art installation celebrating the ancestors of local iwi and the navigational expertise they brought to Turanganui a Kiwa — GDC appeared unaware of any contamination.

The discovery of asbestos and the cessation of earthworks at the site is of deep frustration to local iwi and the artist, who had spent several years producing a significant piece of regional and national public art.

Further testing revealed contamination is likely across the site. In 2019 and 2020, two reports commissioned by GDC to assess the contaminants and potential remedial options were provided to iwi for comment.

Te Runanga o Turanganui a Kiwa (TROTAK) and Rongowhakaata Iwi Trust (RIT) commissioned an assessment of the reports, which concluded that remediation to provide for safe public recreation and cultural use of the site would require significant further work.

Disagreement between iwi and GDC as to the extent of remediation necessary led to TROTAK and RIT calling for an independent review of all reports and remediation proposals to date. Amongst other criticisms of the data gathering process, this review concluded:

1. Considering the history of uncontrolled filling at the site, and high levels of fuel oil and lead in one test pit, there is likely to be unidentified contamination at the site not determined by the investigations to date.

2. Placing a 100mm cap of clean soil over a geofabric layer across the site would not be an acceptable method for managing asbestos-contaminated soil.

3. The proposals didn't specify what actions will be taken if samples from the test pit edges didn't meet soil guideline values for protection of human health.

4. With the current proposals commissioned by GDC, further investigation of soil and groundwater contamination would be needed before a remediation design could be finalised.

5. Considering the likely future uses of the site, complete removal of accessible surface soil across the site to a depth of 500mm, and re-instatement with uncontaminated soil (“land development and exploration option 1”) would be the most effective remediation option.

6. The use of hard-surface paving and installation of landscaping features (eg berms with a thickness ≥ 500mm), described in proposals by RIT in consultation with the artist, would be acceptable alternatives to complete soil removal if suitable long-term management procedures were in place.

Costings for a limited site remediation have been received, however GDC was asked by TROTAK and RIT to obtain costings for a full site remediation as per the review recommendations. Although agreed to by GDC, there has been no costing to date.

The vision for the site is an open public space and venue where the achievements of early Polynesian navigators can be celebrated and people can interact with the site without risk of exposure to contaminantion, and where threats to the Waikanae Stream from buried wastes are minimised.

Looking at the situation, we have enough knowledge to make a decision that gives effect to such a vision. To implement this I suggest an inter-agency approach including GDC, iwi, central government, Trust Tairawhiti and Eastland Port as key participants.

I would recommend to anyone interested in the site and the proposed installation, visit the Te Hau Tahito Exhibition at Tairawhiti Museum to see some of the components of the work and talk with Mr Randall and team about the meaning and relevance behind the whole.

Murray Palmer

  1. Gordon Webb says:

    Re Hawaiki Turanga. The whole process has gained very little traction probably because a lot of people are grumpy about the idea of a monument/statute at that site and also the lack of consultation that led to the decision to put it there. If it must go there, then you fellas sort it out. Asbestos remediation and waste removal are not novel concepts.