Project Pure: extra $2.7m cost to ratepayers [Wanaka Sun, 10/09/20]

Most Wānaka residents are unaware that Council is about to spend an additional $2.7m of ratepayers money to keep Project Pure clear of the proposed jet runway at Wānaka Airport, according to the Wānaka Stakeholder Group (WSG).

According to WSG, which claimed to represent thousands of Wānaka residents, the sum had been discussed behind closed doors by councillors and was buried in the financials for the 2020/21 Annual Plan.

 However, the group was concerned that there had been “no consultation or transparency from Council” despite numerous requests, with the likelihood of “tens of millions” in further costs in the near future.

Mark Sinclair, deputy chair of WSG said: “Council has refused to provide clear and honest answers to our specific questions about this for five months. We only know the real number because it was revealed in an independent inquiry report made available last week. The report revealed a “projected” $2.7m cost for locating the new additions to Project Pure away from the proposed runway.

“To be clear, the $2.7m is over and above the actual costs of the much needed additional wastewater processing capacity at Project Pure. This number is the additional cost of building the improvements away from the code-c jet runway proposed by QAC. QLDC has tried to hide this figure from the community.”

 Sinclair confirmed that there had been “multiple requests” for information about the projected spend and its link to QAC’s plans for a jet airport in Wānaka. 

“I even asked all councillors for the detail on this back in May during the Annual Planning process. I have yet to receive a real answer, and WSG has since requested clarity, ”Sinclair said.

Despite the $2.7m figure being presented to councillors as part of the business case put to them in January, QLDC’s Mayor Jim Boult wrote to concerned ratepayers in August saying that the number couldn’t be shared. In his letter, he said: “It’s not possible at this stage to state how much of the increase sought through the 2020-2021 Annual Plan is due to constructing on the north-east side of the existing plant as the detailed design would need to be completed on both options to provide an accurate comparison.”

Sinclair had labeled Boult’s response as “disingenuous” and “cleverly designed to obscure the detail” from ratepayers.

 “When he wrote to us last month, the Mayor and all councillors had known the projected figure for seven months. They had discussed it. They had included it in the Annual Plan budget and approved it. The Mayor’s refusal to share this projected spend openly is completely unacceptable, and his tactic of claiming that they don’t have final quotes shows his complete disregard for ratepayers’ legitimate concerns.”

Sinclair said WSG members were concerned about Council’s approach. “Council is avoiding fronting up to the community about this – because it knows what the response will be, especially as things get tougher because of Covid-19.” 

The $2.7m is just the “tip of the iceberg” he said. 

 “The airport lease which was shared with the community only under political pressure during the election last year revealed in black and white that QLDC could be asked by QAC to move Project Pure entirely, to make way for their proposed 1900 metre jet runway. When this happened, the costs of moving existing Project Pure facilities would ultimately fall on ratepayers.”

Sinclair said that the cost to shift Project Pure to avoid the planned runway was likely to be “tens of millions”.There was a “deep concern” that QLDC had already decided to hand control to QAC without involving the community.  WSG had seen a “deep-set pattern” of Council avoiding giving answers and obscuring the real detail about Wānaka Airport, its significant impacts on Project Pure, and the true costs to the community. 

 “You’ll be told there are no plans; you’ll be told that quotes have not been sent in; they’ll say that no decisions have been made; they’ll even say that nothing will happen “for a long time”. The fact of the matter is that QLDC has an estimated figure for this first step which is now locked into their budget. They intend to spend our money this way, and they have chosen to try and hide this from us, ”Sinclair said

“This is the thin edge of a very thick wedge to come – and it is deeply concerning,” he said.

When the Wānaka Sun asked for a comment from Mayor Jim Boult his response was: “The Mayor will not be commenting as the matter is currently under judicial review.”

Read this on the Wanaka Sun website here.

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