Part 5: Westland District Council's decision on 5 July 2017

Inquiry into procurement of work by Westland District Council at Franz Josef.

An extraordinary meeting of the Council was held on 5 July 2017 to discuss the concerns that had been raised about an imminent flood risk and the Mayor and Councillor Havill's proposed solution.

A report was prepared for the meeting by the Acting Chief Executive.

The meeting was attended by all but two of the elected members. The Acting Chief Executive and the Group Manager: Corporate Services also attended. No staff from the Council's District Assets Team were asked to attend.

In this Part, we describe:

Information provided to the elected members

The report that the Acting Chief Executive prepared for the Council's meeting largely repeated information from the report that had been prepared for the Council's previous meeting on 22 June. That report had advised elected members about proposed work at the plant, including a plan to strengthen the existing flood embankment and to build a new infiltration gallery.

Attached to the Acting Chief Executive's report was a confidential version of the Tonkin + Taylor report (see paragraphs 2.17 and 2.18).

On the immediate situation facing the wastewater plant, the Acting Chief Executive's report stated only that:

  • The bed of the Waiho River is continuing to aggrade, and its current level is close to the level of the land upon which the ponds are located.
  • The infiltration gallery needs to be upgraded and enhanced.

The report recommended that the Council approve the development of a new infiltration gallery and maintenance of the flood embankment at an estimated cost of $1.3 million. It did not describe what work was needed to "maintain the flood embankment". There is no reference to the type of work that had been announced in the Mayor's Facebook video (that is, straightening the embankment, raising its height and adding rock armour, or building a third pond).

The Council was told that this work would be funded "from the $1.5 million allocated to the Franz Josef Waste Water Treatment project". This was a reference to a funding allocation for "Franz Josef – New WWTP" in the Council's 2017/18 annual plan.

The report stated that the approval was needed urgently because "specialised machinery (a D11 bulldozer) is currently available on the West Coast, and is intended to be relocated back to Canterbury this week."

The report went on to explain that machinery "of this size is required to undertake the proposed work in a cost and time efficient manner." The report did not discuss whether there were other methods or options available to address an imminent flood risk.

What the elected members discussed

The Council's discussion on the work is not recorded in detail but, based on the meeting minutes, appears to have been wide ranging. The minutes record that the following topics were discussed:

  • The current risk and protecting Council's assets
  • Funding
  • Shifting the sewerage ponds
  • The potential for a flood
  • The options for Franz Josef
  • Extension of the Rating District
  • Providing assurance to the Franz Josef Community
  • The importance of having the infrastructure available to cater for the large amounts of tourists in Franz Josef/Waiau.

What the elected members approved

At the end of its discussion, the Council approved the work as recommended, which was simply to:

  • develop a new infiltration gallery; and
  • maintain the flood embankment.

Councillor Havill declared a conflict of interest and did not participate in the decision, although he was involved in the discussion leading up to the decision.

The other elected members were obviously aware of the video the Mayor had posted on his Facebook page. We were told by some members that the Council resolution was passed on an assurance that the work the Council carried out would be limited to maintenance of the existing flood embankment and that it would not go as far as building a new wall. This assurance was not recorded in the minutes.

Our observations on the Council's decision

Our detailed comments on the Council's decision-making process and its obligations under the Local Government Act 2002 are in Part 9. At this stage, we make the following observations.

Very little information is provided about what the proposed work was going to involve. The brief description of the work in the report and minutes appears to be the same as work that had already been planned and outlined to the elected members at the Council's meeting on 22 June 2017, although there is no direct reference to this earlier planned work.

Council staff had not been involved in the planning or design of the proposed work, and no engineering advice had been sought or received. It is not clear whether all of the elected members were aware of this when they were asked to approve the work.

The decision to carry out the work was made without consulting the Regional Council or other parties that might be affected by the work (such as iwi and NZTA).

There was no business case, risk assessment, or analysis of alternative options.

There does not appear to have been any discussion of what consents, if any, might be needed for the work under the Resource Management Act 1991. There is no reference to the work being considered emergency works under that Act.

The report the Acting Chief Executive prepared for the meeting briefly touched on the risks posed by the Waiho River and the minutes from the meeting show that the elected members were concerned about the potential risks to the wastewater plant. However, the stated urgency appears to have been more about the availability of the bulldozer than an imminent flood risk.

The Council was asked to provide its urgent approval for the work on the understanding that the bulldozer was available for only a short time before it needed to return to Canterbury. Despite this apparent urgency, the bulldozer remained in Franz Josef for many months after completing the stopbank work.