Update: 18 April 2019
Fox River/World Heritage Area clean-up programme extended while critical search for funds continues
The Westland District Council confirmed today that it will continue to support response and recovery operations for the clearance of rubbish from the Fox and Cook Rivers and South Westland beaches for another two weeks, while it investigates options to fund the massive clean-up that will be required for several more months.
At a meeting today the Council considered a report on the future options for managing the ongoing environmental impact of the record-level 26 March floods entering a long disused Fox Glacier landfill. Rubbish was washed downriver, out to sea and washed back along West Coast beaches from a point about 10km south of the Cook river, to 50km northward. Much of the impacted area is within the UNESCO World Heritage area.
Mayor Bruce Smith said the report makes it clear that Westland District’s 6500 ratepayers simply cannot afford to continue to fund the clean-up indefinitely.
“This is a disaster of national scale,” Smith said. “The area impacted is a major environmental taonga and tourist attraction. It has enormous economic, cultural and natural value for the whole of New Zealand. We will need all of New Zealand’s help to get it back to the pristine condition it once was.
A huge recovery programme involving national agencies, local government, contractors and volunteers has already cleaned up tonnes of rubbish, but Smith said the job is far from completed.
“We are extremely grateful for the help we have received from government and local government agencies and personnel, local business and dozens of volunteers.
“However, what this report makes clear is that there is still a lot of work to do. A lot of the rubbish is in sites too dangerous for volunteer teams, or where specialist equipment is required. We will need professional contractors for that. Also, we now know there is a huge amount of rubbish buried in the riverbeds that normal seasonal floods will continue to wash out into the river, sea and beaches, potentially for months to come.”
Smith said Westland District Council has sought central government advice on where it might access alternative funding for the ongoing clean-up.
“I am very encouraged to hear today from Hon David Carter, Minister for the Environment, that the Government ‘stands ready to help’. I look forward to hearing what that might entail. We have very few ratepayers to fund activity in a massive landscape that is 80% conservation land. We simply cannot afford to continue to be the primary funder of this recovery effort.”
UPDATE: 17 April:
After three weeks of intense clean up efforts collecting rubbish spread along some South Westland coastline following a severe flood event which affected the disused Fox Landfill, the operations are winding down for the Easter break.
Numerous volunteers, government agencies and local businesses have supported the response which have been based out of Franz Josef.
New operational plans will be implemented in the coming week and options for earthmoving machinery, contractor involvement, waste sorting and disposal will be in place when the operation resumes.
Intelligence for the response and future strategic planning has been gathered through a number of sources and information received from spatial visualisations along with feedback from field operations have produced a robust GIS picture of areas that have been cleaned and identified waypoints for fadge collection.
Local Recovery Manager, Te Aroha Cook said “It is recommended the public don’t attempt to collect any rubbish from the beaches or the river bed over this period. There are numerous hazards amongst the rubbish and the health and safety of all trained staff and volunteers has been the top priority since clean-up began.
There is a risk of injury if correct personal protective equipment isn’t worn and while we acknowledged there will be well meaning members of the community wanting to assist the clean-up in their own time, we urge people to register their interest to volunteer after the holidays by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and someone will be in touch for further details once we reconvene operations.”
UPDATE: 16 April:
Clean up work of rubbish that spread onto some coastline and river from the disused Fox landfill has continued this week with 45 fadges, two fridges and an oven being removed from impacted coastlines to staging areas.
Over 140 helicopter flights utilising operators from the Fox and Franz area, have transported 255 people to remote beaches, provided reconnaissance opportunities for response staff to gather intelligence and remove collected rubbish.
Approximately 150 volunteers have been involved in the clean-up to date, with many other offers of assistance coming through to the operations centre. Mike Bilodeau, volunteer coordinator said “this week, our teams have really been targeting Waiho Beach, the area near Waitapi Creek, and both sides of the Fox/Cook River mouth. It’s incredible how happy everyone comes back after working away at such a heart breaking task. It must be a mix of being outside in a beautiful area, and doing something good for the environment. Our volunteers bring us back important information and intelligence at the end of each day. They also come back with lot of ideas about the rubbish problem, both locally and worldwide. It’s great to hear what they have to say and see how passionate they all are”.
Many other agencies are working closely together to lead the clean-up operation ensuring it is run safely, implementing operational plans, and analysing long-term options.
Department of Conservation staff have been focussed in the upper reaches of the Fox River area. The department has provided staff from around the South Island and they, along with local teams, are collecting large amounts of rubbish as they work their way down the river flats.
Operational team members and volunteers will have a well-earned break over the Easter weekend with action plans being reviewed for the following week.
“Encouraging time off to all those who have been actively involved in this response and recovery, will provide everyone an opportunity to rest and spend quality time with their families” said Te Aroha Cook, Local Recovery Manager. “Many people and businesses have been committed to the clean up over a number of weeks and the upcoming holidays will be a welcomed time for many. The Westland District Council are immensely grateful to our partner agencies, volunteers and all others who are contributing to this operation,” she said.
Further updates are available on the South Westland Coastal Clean-up Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/southwestlandcoastalcleanup/ and Westland District Councils website https://www.westlanddc.govt.nz/
UPDATE 15 April:
Waiho Bridge reopening increases access for Fox landfill clean-up team
The Fox River landfill clean-up is expected to make good progress this week, following the opening of the Waiho Bridge, which means volunteers can use vehicles to access remote locations, rather than relying on helicopter transport.
The Westland District Council will continue to use helicopters to transport teams to areas inaccessible by 4WD vehicles until Wednesday and for ongoing aerial surveys throughout the response.
During the weekend, a team of volunteers completed a survey of the Fox River and Cook River. This survey extended 20 kilometres, from the old Fox landfill to the Tasman Sea.
The survey mapped areas of importance for rubbish recovery in the coming weeks. It provides accurate coordinates to teams to locate waste more readily. The survey also helped the Council confirm completed areas and where to collect bulk bags of waste from the clean-up, as well as providing a visual assessment for third parties to review.
This week, volunteers and the Department of Conservation (DOC) crews will access sites using 4WD vehicles. The Council is trying to source appropriate vehicles from other supporting agencies and businesses.
“We have made significant progress in the clean-up in the past week. The aerial footage will assist significantly in efforts this week as we can pinpoint locations and determine the best route for access,” says Local Recovery Manager, Te Aroha Cook.
“During the weekend, our volunteer teams worked on cleaning-up Sandfly Beach, Saltwater Bay to 700m up the lagoon, Fox Cook River Mouth – South, Waitapi Creek, and Fox Cook River Mouth – North.
“It is estimated that volunteers have collected 37 large bags of rubbish so far.”
Volunteers are collecting rubbish that spread onto beaches and rivers when severe flooding breached an old Fox River landfill nearly three weeks ago.
Further updates are available on the South Westland Coastal Clean-up Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/southwestlandcoastalcleanup/ and Westland District Council’s website https://www.westlanddc.govt.nz/.
The combined efforts and goodwill of volunteers and government departments continue to make good progress in the clean-up of the rubbish washed up from a disused landfill nearly 2 weeks ago following flooding of the Fox River in South Westland.
A Department of Conservation representative said over 25 DoC staff from throughout the South Island are in the area, with specialist teams preparing to stay overnight in huts over the coming days to minimise fly in time and along with Landcorp, have made 4x4 vehicles available for use to trained response staff.
A collaboration between Department of Conservation and Wildbase Wildlife response team, Massey University has seen the development of a wildlife response plan to support the long term recovery. Louise Chilvers of Wildbase said “to date there has been no reports of wildlife impacted which is absolutely fantastic however it is important that this continues to be monitored”. If a member of the public finds any wildlife that may appear to have been affected, please call the Department of Conservation on 0800 362 468 (DOC HOT)
Maritime New Zealand have 5 National Response team members in Franz Josef assisting the process. These people would normally be leading teams dealing with maritime incidents and marine oil spills. Their specialist skills are assisting the smooth running of the response.
Mike Bilodeau, an Okarito local, started reaching out for volunteers when rubbish started showing up on the beach, and has been inundated with offers of help ever since. “We have had people contact us from all over the country, people who saw what was happening along our beautiful coastline and just wanted to lend a hand”. Volunteers will continue their work over the next week and we are grateful for the support. If you wish to volunteer, please email email@example.com providing each person’s full name and email address along with your current location or either north or south of the Waiho River advising availability by 3.00pm the previous day.
Westland District Council, Local Recovery Manager, Te Aroha Cook has been impressed with those supporting the clean up. “The continued work of volunteers, local operators and partner agencies has illustrated once again that while the West Coast region may bear the brunt of many weather events, we have capable communities and support is provided from around New Zealand to enable a timely response and recovery”
Further updates are available on the South Westland Coastal Clean-up Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/southwestlandcoastalcleanup/
UPDATE: 10 April
Great progress is being made by volunteers and specialist teams cleaning up rubbish, washed up from a disused landfill that is now in the Fox River.
Volunteers have concentrated on clearing rubbish from readily accessible parts of rivers and beaches, while specialist teams focus on harder-to-reach sites, including areas considered too difficult or dangerous for volunteers.
On 9 April, volunteer teams were taken by helicopter to clean up the Karangarua River mouth, Cook River mouth, Gillespies Beach, Five Mile Beach, Three Mile Beach and North Spit Okarito. Most of the rubbish removed has been plastic bags, plastic bottles and glass bottles. Specialist teams will deploy to Five Mile Beach to continue waste removal on Thursday.
Landowners are supporting the clean-up initiative by enabling access through their properties to river and beach sites.
Specialist teams are undertaking river flat clearing because this may require the use of chainsaws to cut into driftwood piles before any rubbish is removed. Endangered native broom at sites will be identified and protected while the clean-up continues.
Drones are being used to identify and guide response teams into debris locations.
People who wish to be considered for the clean-up must contact firstname.lastname@example.org with dates they are available and any relevant specialist skills they have. Volunteers will need to bring adequate food and suitable clothing and footwear, as well as sunscreen and insect repellent.
Updates are available on the South Westland Coastal Clean-up Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/southwestlandcoastalcleanup/