Papakura Courier

Covid delays key Watercare project

- STEPHEN FORBES Local democracy reporter

An environmen­tal group is frustrated Auckland’s $1.2 billion Central Intercepto­r won’t be completed until 2026 because of disruption­s caused by the pandemic.

Mt Albert resident Liz Walker is the chairwoman of St Lukes Environmen­tal Protection Society and has spent the past 30 years fighting to clean up some of Auckland’s most polluted waterways.

According to Watercare, disruption­s because of Covid-19 have now pushed out the timeline for the project by a year.

Walker said while the Central Intercepto­r would not stop all sewage overflows into the Waitemata Harbour, it would seriously reduce them and help clean up some of the city’s waterways and beaches.

She lives close to the Roy Clements Treeway, a walkway that follows Meola Creek between St Lukes and Mt Albert and regularly floods during heavy rain.

Walker said you could see after how high the water level was by the toilet paper and waste in the shrubs and trees: ‘‘It’s like a mini-Huka Falls. It’s terrible.’’

The toxic mixture of human waste and stormwater makes its way along the creek to Meola Reef before it spills into the Waitematā Harbour, polluting the city’s beaches during heavy rain.

Walker said waiting another year for the Central Intercepto­r to be completed was one year too many and she wanted to see an end to the sewage overflows in her local waterway and Auckland’s Harbour.

‘‘We’re disappoint­ed at any delay in the Central Intercepto­r,’’ Walker said. ‘‘Our organisati­on has been working with Watercare on this for 17 years.’’

The Central Intercepto­r is a 14.7km long sewer tunnel from Grey Lynn to the Māngere Wastewater Treatment Plant and was originally expected to be completed in 2025. Tunnelling work on the project began in Māngere in July last year.

However, Watercare chief executive Jon Lamonte said residents would now have to wait a bit longer. His new report to the council-controlled organisati­on’s board outlines the problems the project has faced and says it is now not expected to be finished until the first quarter of 2026.

‘‘The current Covid-19 restrictio­ns will further delay the completion of all sections of the project,’’ Lamonte said.

He said Omicron had a significan­t effect on the works, with tunnelling having to stop in February at one point due to a shortage of staff. ‘‘Covid-19 affected all Watercare operations throughout February and into March, largely because of the level of absenteeis­m.’’

And Lamonte said the reopening of the country’s borders from April was also expected to put increasing pressure on the project as it fights to retain skilled workers from overseas. Watercare Central Intercepto­r executive programme director Shayne Cunis said like most infrastruc­ture works, it had been hit hard by the pandemic.

Cunis was asked what impact the delays would have on the budget of the project and if those costs would be carried by the contractor. ‘‘Until the Central Intercepto­r is completed, we don’t know what (if any) claims the contractor may make. The budget will be dealt with in the asset management plan.’’

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.

 ?? LAWRENCE SMITH/STUFF ?? St Lukes Environmen­tal Protection Society chairwoman Liz Walker says waiting until 2026 for Auckland’s Central Intercepto­r to be completed is too long, and she wants to see an end to the sewage overflows in her local waterway and Auckland’s Harbour. Right: Watercare chief executive Jon Lamonte.
LAWRENCE SMITH/STUFF St Lukes Environmen­tal Protection Society chairwoman Liz Walker says waiting until 2026 for Auckland’s Central Intercepto­r to be completed is too long, and she wants to see an end to the sewage overflows in her local waterway and Auckland’s Harbour. Right: Watercare chief executive Jon Lamonte.
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