Bay of Plenty Regional Council has begun working with the community on a project to safely remove contaminated sediment from the Kopeopeo Canal in Whakatāne.
Discharges of dioxins from a now-closed sawmill caused contamination of the drainage canal, resulting in environmental damage as well as cultural and economic loss for local iwi and neighbouring landowners.
Bay of Plenty Regional Council’s Operations Manager, Bruce Crabbe said it would take some time to safely remove, store and treat the sediment and even longer before it is safe to harvest eels from the canal so stakeholders were keen to get the work underway.
“Some trials were conducted last year on the safe storage and treatment of sediment contaminated with dioxins and that was really encouraging,” Mr Crabbe said.
“As a result, we have worked with the adjacent landowners, local iwi and other government authorities to develop a project plan to address the long-standing issue of contamination of the Kopeopeo Canal.
“In a staged approach, contaminated sediment from the Kopeopeo Canal will be removed and safely stored and treated at another location, and we will continue to monitor the environment.
“Once the contaminated sediment has been removed, eel harvesting is not expected to be safe for 2 to 5 years after monitoring tests confirm the dioxin reduction targets have been met,” he said.
Mr Crabbe said the next stage in the project will be to work with the community to obtain the necessary resource consents while awaiting a decision on funding.
The estimated cost of the repair work is around $3 million. The Ministry for the Environment has signalled their intention to fund half through the Contaminated Sites Remediation Fund (CSRF) if Regional Council will fund half. Regional Council intends to include this proposal in the draft Ten Year Plan which will be open for public consultation at the end of March 2012, and a decision is expected in June 2012.
The Kopeopeo Canal contamination remediation project is managed by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council in partnership with representatives from the Whakatāne – Waimana Rivers Scheme Liaison Group, Te Runanga o Ngāti Awa, Sawmill Workers Against Poisons and the Ministry for the Environment.