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Council's liability over contaminated sites

GISBORNE Gisborne District Council's environmental planning and regulations committee has been told that contaminated sites could present a significant liability to the council.

The committee was told sites included the former Paokahu landfill, the current Waiapu landfill and the former gasworks.

GDC shared sciences manager Lois Easton said there were many former and current depot, quarry and landfill sites, as well as other land, which had been used for purposes involving hazardous substances.

Only a small number of these had undergone any remediation, and they could represent a significant liability for the council if contamination of ground or surface water was occurring as a result of these unremediated or partly remediated sites.

Preliminary investigation work identified 24 potentially contaminated sites that might require remediation. In addition, investigations into the state of the Paokahu landfill indicated that further remedial work might be required as it was not complying with its resource consent.

Waiapu landfillConsideration was also being given to the future of the Waiapu landfill. Aftercare would be required when it was eventually closed.

Before the establishment of the Paokahu and Waiapu landfills the council operated a number of other landfills, which were now closed. No formal aftercare was in place for those sites.

The next step would be to undertake detailed assessments of the sites’ state and risk. Once desktop work was completed, funding was available for the Ministry for the Environment to help with detailed site investigations to determine the degree of contamination and need for remediation.

Funding was also available from a contested fund to contribute to the cost of remediation of these sites.

The committee was told that the council had responsibility under the Resource Management Act to identify and monitor contaminated land.

It also had some responsibilities as a land owner of contaminated land and the manager of activities that led to contamination.

Why was it council's responsibility?Rehette Stoltz said some of these sites were no longer or had never been owned by the council, so why did the buck stop with them?

Ms Easton said a good example was landfills which then Gisborne City Council operated alongside the Waikanae Stream before Paokahu was opened. Some of that was now Watson Park but some was never owned by the council.

Paokahu was never owned by the council.

“Who was in charge then?” asked Mrs Stoltz.

Ms Easton said it was not usual in other parts of the country for councils to establish landfills on land they did not own.

Gasworks can of wormsIn the case of the former gasworks site, the council was the owner of the adjacent road reserve and because hydrocarbons migrated through the soil, it was contaminated.

“It is a difficult one,” she said.

Responsibility for the gasworks lay with the owner and there had been some remediation done but the council had always owned the road reserve and it was difficult to argue that the owner should pay for degradation of the road reserve.

This was a very old site, and former gasworks were some of the country’s most contaminated sites.

Previous owners of the site had obtained consent for commercial use including fully sealed car parking, A lot of the government money available for remediation was for gasworks sites. They were a legacy issue, no one legally standing was liable for their remediation.

AMONG THE MOST CONTAMINATED: The former Gisborne gasworks site is on the list of places where hazardous substances were left behind by land use. Gasworks sites qualify for government assistance as a legacy issue.