Tony Phipps, the Northland Regional Council’s Operations Director, says members of the public had first reported seeing traces of oil in the unnamed tributary of the Waiaruha River near the Haruru Falls industrial estate early this year.
Council staff had investigated – including inspecting all the properties in the area – but had not been able to track the source of the oil. There had been intermittent reports of more traces of oil in the stream in both January and February but again, a source could not be located.
However, in the week leading up to Easter, a much larger spill of approximately 100 to 200 litres had been detected along a roughly 50-metre stretch of the tributary.
Opua-based regional council staff had responded and had boomed off the area to contain the spill. The Far North District Council had also been alerted as the tributary feeds into the Waiaruha River, which in turn feeds in to the Waitangi River, near where the district council draws water for Paihia’s town supply.
Mr Phipps says the district council was able to take appropriate action to ensure those supplies were not affected and the regional council had arranged for the oil to be removed with special sucker trucks and diggers.
This time, the scale of the spill meant oil could still be seen discharging from a stormwater pipe in the area and a remote camera fed up the pipe had showed where the oil was allegedly entering it from a business in the industrial estate.
Subsequent inquiries revealed oil appeared to have been discharging for some time from a waste oil storage area at the business.
Mr Phipps says several abatement notices have already been issued to the business owner requiring them to stop the alleged discharge and undertake urgent clean up work.
“It appears a large amount of soil on the property is contaminated with waste oil and will also need to be removed.”
He says the Regional Council is now considering further enforcement action over the incident, which will likely include an attempt to recover the approximately $15,000 to $20,000 it had already spent investigating and cleaning up the spill.
Mr Phipps says the regional council is in regular contact with the district council to make sure it is kept informed of any developments and can take whatever action necessary to ensure its water supplies are not compromised.
“Fortunately, at this stage it appears any environmental damage to the tributary will be short-term. The situation with the business owner’s property is less clear at this stage and it’s likely they will need to remove quite a few tonnes of oil-contaminated soil.”
Mr Phipps says the incident serves as a warning to businesses dealing with waste oil to ensure that oil is properly contained and disposed of.