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Wet wipe ban not the way to go: committee

A Gisborne District Council committee acknowledges wet wipes are a major issue for the city's sewage system but has not embraced an idea to ban them.

The Kiwa Group, which provides cultural and technical advice to the council on water management, was seeking a mandate from the council's wastewater committee to investigate a ban on wet wipes as part of its high-level work programme.

The committee, which met yesterday, did not approve the Kiwa Group's recommendation to investigate a bylaw banning wet wipes.

But it suggested the group could look at the potential for a bylaw as part of their work to investigate ways to minimise the harm of wet wipes through its recommendations on the DrainWise programme.

The DrainWise programme is about preventing sewage overflows into the rivers and sea.

Committee member Angus Ngarangione, of Ngai Tamanuhiri, said he was comfortable with the Kiwa Group's request to investigate a bylaw.

But councillor Larry Foster said he didn't believe a bylaw was the right way to go.

“To actually put a bylaw in place to prohibit people buying them or using them in our region . . . that's impeding on people's rights.

“I certainly agree that we should be putting alarm bells out there about the consequences of wet wipes and voicing our disapproval of them as much as possible, but to actually put a bylaw in place is probably a step too far.”

Committee members mainly questioned whether the Kiwa Group, which was established under the council's wastewater resource consent to improve the mauri and water quality of Turanganui-a-kiwa, were the right ones to lead the kaupapa.

Cr Shannon Dowsing said the Kiwa Group were technical experts on water quality, not legal experts.

“What's required is a way to minimise the harm . . . I'm not sure that Kiwa is the right group to do that.”

Committee member Leroy Pardoe, a tangata whenua representative, also questioned whether the Kiwa group should drive the kaupapa.

“My concern is that it distracts them from that more technical, specific stuff that we need them to be doing.

“This potentially just opens up a whole can of worms where I'm not sure where it ultimately ends up.”

Cr Kerry Worsnop said they could all recognise the huge damage caused by wet wipes and the implications of people continuing to flush them. While banning wet wipes outright would have positive implications for the awa (river) by preventing blockages that caused sewage overflows, it did not consider the implication on people's lives by removing a product that many people were heavily dependent on, she said.

“This kind of proposition is potentially a good place to start a conversation about our behaviour and the implications if you don't manage your behaviour.”

“If the education campaign and the steps that go before do not deliver the outcomes that we want, and we have a zero-tolerance policy, then this might be where we land,” she said.

Council lifelines director David Wilson said the Kiwa Group had been looking for a “pragmatic step” to resolve the ongoing fatberg issue, but emphasised to the committee that the council had not yet investigated the legalities of a bylaw.

The Kiwa Group had been seeking a mandate from the committee to investigate whether a bylaw was legal or not, he said.

Wilson said the DrainWise campaign had included messaging around wet wipes on social media, billboards and radio.

“They continue to be an issue for us.”