A campaign against a huge new dump north of Auckland has drawn together a coalition of iwi, local residents and local government. With their rāhui ignored, they’ve decided to send a hīkoi direct to Auckland Council’s door. Alex Braae reports.
For Dame Rangimarie Naida Glavish (Ngāti Whātua), the prospect of pollution reaching the Kaipara Harbour is deeply personal. As someone who was raised on the shores of the harbour, she feels a kaitiaki responsibility to protect it.
It’s why she’ll be leading a hīkoi in Auckland this Friday against the construction of a new rubbish tip in the Dome Valley on a 1,000-hectare site at the northern end of the Super City. The dump will sit near the Hōteo River which starts around the Wayby Valley, flowing through Dome Valley and out to the Kaipara Harbour – a precious ecosystem for many vulnerable species. It’s set to hold not only household rubbish, but industrial and construction waste as well.
The plan for the dump has caused intense opposition from mana whenua iwi and hapū, particularly Ngāti Whātua. Other local residents have also joined the campaign, along with the entire Kaipara District Council. There’s a mood of anger that their piece of paradise could become a dumping ground for Auckland’s rubbish, and a fear that decisions made now could affect people of the area for generations to come.
“Dome Valley is just on the boundary border with Auckland,” said Glavish, noting that the recent spate of historic dumps being opened up by heavy rain shows that the rubbish may not stay in place forever. “Not only that, it’s about protecting the earth, protecting Papatūānuku, with the pollutants that go into her.”
Over the course of the campaign against the dump, Glavish says they’ve been let down by Auckland Council and other local government organisations, along with Waste Management NZ which has the contract for the dump. The campaign alleges they’ve been ignored in favour of bigger organisations with deeper pockets.
“It’s not as though those who are giving approval at Auckland Council haven’t heard us. They know what we’re thinking, they know what we’re saying, they know what the outcome is. Therefore, it leaves one thinking that perhaps the interest is looking like a dollar.”
The plan for the hīkoi was to present a petition against the dump to mayor Phil Goff. However, a mayoral office spokesperson said that hīkoi organisers were advised that the mayor wouldn’t be available to receive the petition and that it would instead be accepted by Council staff.
In a statement, the spokesperson said that while the mayor supported zero waste goals, in the meantime, “landfills remain a key waste management tool”.
“With regard to Waste Management NZ Limited’s proposal to construct and operate a new regional landfill in Dome Valley, Auckland Council is required by legislation to receive the resource consent applications from Waste Management NZ Ltd, and is currently fulfilling its statutory obligations to consider it. Public consultation concluded on 26 May 2020, and the next step is a hearing.”
Anger at Auckland Council and the Crown has united other hapū in the area. Mikaera Miru from Te Uri O Hau Waiotea Marae in Tinopai said he was furious to hear that Goff wouldn’t be attending to receive the petition and would instead be “sending a flunkie”.
“What a joke. The mayor is paid a huge salary by the community, and he should be there. If they’re proud of what they’re doing, he would be there.”
For those participating in the hīkoi, a rāhui being ignored by Auckland Council is another sore point. Glavish says she was disappointed that consideration of a rāhui was flatly refused because it doesn’t have legal standing, even though the Council were happy to lean on the mana of the rāhui placed over the Waitākere Ranges to prevent kauri dieback.
“This one is the same rāhui as that one. There is no difference in the form of rāhui that one lays, it’s all in the interests of conservation, and the relationship between humankind and the environment we live in.”
Miru agreed that the concept of a dump is symptomatic of thinking that only prioritises the present over past or future generations.
“Putting it in holes is just posting it to future generations to deal with. It’s a multi-billion dollar debt that we’re putting on the heads of future generations, and it’s totally unacceptable.”
Local residents from the Kaipara Flats will also be taking part in the hīkoi under the banner of a group called Fight the Tip. One of the leaders of that group, school teacher Michelle Carmichael, lives on the edge of the Hōteo River just upstream from where the dump would be. She says the area is prone to the sort of flooding that will make managing the effects extremely difficult.
“The main issue is the water. There’s a big tributary from the site as well, so they want to divert a waterway and it’s quite a significant one that leads down to the Hōteo and then down to the Kaipara. So any breach of it would not be contained. It’d be flowing down those waterways.”
“When we look at the landfill siting criteria … they’re going against their own criteria. Because it says to avoid waterways, avoid high rainfall areas, avoid unstable land, avoid at-risk flora and fauna, and avoid aquifers. You have all of those here on this site. It doesn’t make sense,” says Carmichael.
Waste Management NZ for its part has made it clear that the dump will have linings and safeguards in place to prevent leaching and leakage. But getting a clear answer for how long those protections would last hasn’t been easy for Carmichael who says she’s heard five different figures. Besides, even if it’s decades or more than a century before anything leaks, Carmichael says that’s fundamentally not the point. “I’ve had someone say to me that it doesn’t matter because it won’t be in our lifetime,” she says, throwing her hands up in disbelief.
Part of the issue for those campaigning against the dump is that they’re up against a bewildering array of bureaucracy and split responsibilities across different local government organisations. Carmichael has a box of more than 4,000 pages worth of documents relating to the issue, which Miru calls the “box of bullshit”.
A major point of contention for campaigners is whether there’s been genuine engagement from Waste Management NZ with their concerns. Those against the dump say it’s been shallow and insufficient. In a statement, the company says it’s been “pleased to engage with iwi, including Ngāti Manuhiri, Ngāti Rango, Ngā Maunga Whakahii, Te Uri o Hau and Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Whātua, as well as presenting to a range of people at various local community groups”.
“At the time the rāhui was placed on the site in June 2019, we were already proactively consulting with multiple iwi including Ngāti Manuhiri and Ngāti Whātua.
“Following the rāhui placed by Mr Miru, we have attempted several times to meet with him and also Ms Carmichael of Fight the Tip, which they have not wanted to do. We respect their decision.”
One local politician Miru and Carmichael have a lot of time for though is Kaipara District mayor Dr Jason Smith who’ll be speaking at the hīkoi on Friday. Smith says that normally, Auckland Council and Kaipara District Council would stand “shoulder to shoulder” on the need to clean up the harbour, including a recent $100 million restoration project announced by the prime minister.
“The thing is, we’re all working so hard, person by person right now, to restore those waterways. So it’s kind of that awful double standard.”
Speaking about his fellow Kaipara councillors, Smith says they’re “all very concerned about what is quite frankly an unacceptable risk to the environment, to the Kaipara moana. And the documents of the proposers don’t give assurances beyond 150 years, regarding waterways and the integrity of the lining system. The risk of poisoning to the Kaipara Harbour is, to me, unacceptable.”
Smith says that under the legislation, councils have to take future environmental risks into account, and the dump carries “a long shadow.” It might be five generations into the future that those risks manifest themselves, but that’s the same amount of time that Smith’s family has lived in Kaipara.
“The problems that we’ve all seen with the small landfills on the West Coast … [you take those] problems and magnify them a thousand-fold, for the nasty chemicals and the quantities that will be in the proposed landfill. And you have to say: just don’t do that to the Kaipara,” says Smith.
“For Ngāti Whātua to be saying this is a major issue in one of the central tributaries in the Hōteo River, their view is a very long view. People sit up to take notice.”