Rotorua mayor, councillors label Rawiri Waititi comments on sewerage fault ‘misinformation’

Rotorua’s mayor and two councillors have accused Waiariki MP Rawiri Waititi of “misinformation”, with one councillor labelling his comments over a sewerage fault a “political stunt”.

However, Waititi says their comments are a “classic deflection technique on the council’s part”.

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick raised the issue of Waititi’s comments in a Rotorua Lakes Council Operations and Monitoring Committee meeting on Thursday morning.

In an April 11 Māori Party press release titled “Rotorua Council needs to clean its s**t up”, Waititi said he’d attended a community hui in Ngāpuna where locals had spoken of “physical and psychological suffering” due to a sewerage fault which occurred on March 29.

Waititi said the neighbourhood “literally smelt like s**t” and called council work on the issue a “patch up”.

“If this was a Pākehā community, or a rich one, the issue would be fixed straight away and a complete overhaul on the system would be in play. In fact, if it was a Pākehā community, the plant wouldn’t have been put there in the first place,” his statement said.

At Thursday’s meeting Chadwick asked council infrastructure manager Stavros Michael if there had been a follow up meeting with the Ngāpuna community “where we can go and address some of the misinformation that was put in the public domain?”

Michael said a meeting was planned for April 29 but it was postponed “because the MP was not available to be present at the time”.

He said he understood the council was waiting for an alternative, suitable date. He confirmed the council would “meet with the community to discuss”.

Councillor Mercia Yates also said there had been “misinformation” about the issue and said her question was regarding that and “the proposed meeting with the Waiariki MP”.

She asked Michael for reassurance that communication with the Ngāpuna community had been “continual”.

Michael said there had been “ongoing engagement” with the Ngāpuna community “on a number of levels”.

“Notwithstanding some of the long-standing grievances they’ve got about the development of industrial zones around them and so on, which we are sensitive and cognizant of … about four years ago we worked with the community and installed [new infrastructure] with their involvement.”

More recently the council sought the community’s permission to retain an alternative pipeline “which actually proved very crucial to that incident on the 29th of March”.

“It ensured there was no untreated sewage spillage anywhere, we simply responded to a fault.”

He said there were about 81 pump stations around the district which “by necessity” sat near residential houses.

“So it’s not a unique case but obviously we try to communicate with affected parties and especially with the Ngāpuna community we have.

“We’ll continue to work in that direction.”

Chairing the meeting, councillor Tania Tapsell, a former National Party candidate for the East Coast, said she was “disappointed by that MP … for the misinformation and the political stunt that he attempted”.

“That was only damaging and hurtful to the very people he was attempting to help.”

She said she had sent out an email “very quickly” requesting the council respond to Waititi and offer to meet “so that he is fully informed”.

After today’s meeting, Waititi told Local Democracy Reporting the comments were a “classic deflection technique on the council’s part”.

“The issue was and always will be about the council respecting the Ngāpuna community enough to front up and address their concerns face to face.

“They don’t need me to hold their hand for that to happen.”

He said the fact that he was unable to attend the hui organised due to prior commitments “should never have stopped the council from fronting up, but it did”.

“I did what I said I was going to do. We are now waiting for the council to come to the party.

“The council’s fragility around this issue is not my concern. I was put in this position to make sure entities like councils are fulfilling their obligations to my people and that’s what I intend to keep doing.”

On April 14 after Waititi’s statement, Michael told the Rotorua Daily Post there had been an immediate council response to the fault and there was no overflow of untreated sewage.

The fault was caused by the collapse of a wastewater main near Hona Rd pump station, causing the build up of silt and debris which blocked the two pumps, he said.

Trility and Fulton Hogan placed a temporary seal on the wastewater main, then specialised dive crews manually removed debris from within the pump station chamber to unblock the pumps.

Michael said there was still work to be done on the wastewater main, and a full pipe replacement would possibly happen within the next two years.

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