Northlake dust: residents rise up

Northlake spokesperson: “We empathise with anyone affected by dust, which is why we are doing all things possible to mitigate the issue.”

Queenstown Lakes District Council’s (QLDC) monitoring and enforcement team is investigating dust concerns around Northlake after complaints were made on Facebook - revealing to residents that they were not alone.

Steve and Trish Popperwell, who live above the Hidden Hills subdivision, said this was the first time it had come to their attention that they were “not the only ones” complaining about dust control at Northlake.

Since October 2016, the Popperwells had contacted QLDC many times but said no effective action had taken place.

As a result of dust clouds blowing from earthworks in parts of the 108 hectare subdivision site, residents in varying locations all reported similar difficulties - dust in the air, covering windows and furniture, and even causing health issues.

“I have to dust and vacuum every two days, I run a cloth over the bath every second day and it comes up with a fine brown dust, and I have a lung condition which has greatly worsened over the last three years,” said Trish Popperwell. 

“I would clean the toilet and then a day or two later there would be a layer of brown dust. I’m sure that if it ends up on the toilet seat, it would also end up in your lungs,” said former resident Esther Riess. 

Residents believed that not enough was being done by the developer, Winton, to mitigate the dust issue - especially on weekends and after working hours - but they were often prevented from complaining by the Northlake no-objection clause.

“Dust mitigation is a joke. A water truck wets the roads but large areas are exposed to the wind,” said one resident.

Another referred to an “endless lack of care” when it came to dust control - with workers packing up on the weekends and leaving nothing in place.

“From our elevated viewpoint we occasionally see the water trucks watering the roadways, but those are not the areas that the dust is coming from. There are large areas of land which have been stripped bare of vegetation [where] no dust control is taking place,” said Popperwell.

Trish and Barry Andrews reported seeing a water tanker at the new earthworks site near Sticky Forest be “so ineffective that the wind was just blowing the water all over the tanker.”

A spokesperson for Northlake outlined the dust suppression methods used: eight sets of K lines (substantial flexi hose sprinklers) controlling stockpiles and a 10,000l water cart managing the areas in-between; a 10,000l water cart managing access and haul routes across the site with a 5,000l water cart focused on road construction areas; and a 16,000l water carrier in the earthworks area. 

The amount of sprinklers was to be doubled in the coming days. In addition, a polymer was being applied “as conditions allow,” which “forms a crust to the subgrade and stabilises areas that have been worked prior to topsoiling.”

“Areas are pre-soaked daily prior to works commencing. When wind increases to unacceptable levels, construction ceases until weather permits it to start again,” they said. 

“QLDC impose and monitor conditions of resource consent, sign off on the environmental management plan (required prior to works starting) and receive monthly reports as well as specific reporting on any incidents as they arise. Council staff are onsite every week and as required in response to specific issues.”

The spokesperson said environmental factors presented challenges. “Wānaka is windy. The glacial till material that we are working with is notoriously difficult to manage. It has the consistency of flour and mobilises very easily. Combined with an exposed site, recent high temperatures have created some challenges.

“As we move into cooler months, environmental management generally becomes more straightforward,” they said.

The last of the bulk earthworks at Northlake is estimated to finish in winter.

QLDC’s Jack Barlow confirmed that the monitoring and enforcement team checked resource consents periodically and followed up on non-compliance when necessary.

“At all times the consent holder is required to implement environmental management controls to mitigate, avoid or remedy erosion which generates dust. These controls are checked during monitoring inspections and it is expected that consent holders adapt these controls as, and when, weather conditions indicate there is greater risk for erosion and sedimentation to take place,” he said.

But the Northlake spokesperson said that QLDC had recently “limited the amount of water available for dust control,” for reasons unknown. They had asked for clarification. QLDC were contacted for further comment on this. 

“We empathise with anyone affected by dust, which is why we are doing all things possible to mitigate the issue,” said the Northlake spokesperson. 

“We are hopeful we can increase water use onsite soon – we are working with QLDC for ways of doing so. As a supplementary measure, we have just signed off the installation of an additional 120,000l tank farm to store additional water on site for dust mitigation purposes.”

QLDC’s next steps would be determined following the investigation. 

Otago Regional Council (ORC) had been notified but on a site visit last month, manager compliance, Tami Sargeant, said they found no dust discharge.

Read edition 1016 of the Wānaka Sun here.

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