Residents in Queenstown’s renowned wine valley are furious about a recent pong from the nearby rubbish dump – 15 years after warning it would stink.
Some people in Gibbston Valley’s small community want action over “revolting” smells – compared with rotten eggs, sulphur and poo – wafting from Victoria Flats landfill.
In three months to early September, the Otago Regional Council pollution hotline logged a dozen complaints over the rubbish dump off Gibbston Highway between Nevis Bluff and Victoria Bridge.
Queenstown Lakes District Council also received complaints and launched an investigation with landfill owner-operator Scope Resources.
Resident Shelley Chilton: “It’s disgusting, really shocking.
“You come outside the house and you can smell it. Drive past and the smell comes in through your car’s air conditioning,” Chilton says.
“Something needs to be done. It’s ridiculous because resource consent is really difficult to gain in the valley – your house can’t be seen from the road, has to be a certain colour, but hello, they’re allowed that [landfill].”
Household waste, commercial waste, special waste and hazardous waste from across the Wakatipu and Central Otago is buried at the landfill 19km outside Queenstown.
Ex-Gibbston Community Association chairman John Lane says residents campaigned 15 years ago against the proposed dump.
“We said ‘you’re putting a landfill not only at the entrance to the Wakatipu but the Gibbston Valley’,” Lane says.
“It’s inevitable the smell will eventually mount – and that’s exactly what has happened.
“We pleaded with [ex-mayor] Warren Cooper to put it somewhere else,” Lane says, adding: “I know we sounded like NIMBYs [Not In My Backyard] but we told them 15 years ago that eventually there’d be a stench. It smells bloody awful.”
Some residents believe the smells – carried by easterly winds – are caused by sludge from Wanaka’s wastewater disposal system Project Pure, carted in by road and buried at Victoria Flats.
Gibbston resident Neil Chilton: “It smells of sulphur and poo. We’ve heard it’s sewage from Wanaka – we don’t want theirs here, we use a septic tank.”
“The council knows so hopefully something’s being done.”
Council infrastructure and assets boss Erik Barnes says their investigation concluded imported sewage sludge from Wanaka isn’t the cause.
“We have investigated, identified and discussed the causes with the landfill owner.
“The odour was not caused by the sewage sludge from Project Pure, which is permitted to be disposed of at the landfill as ‘controlled waste’.”
Scope recently commissioned a detection report which identified odour emanating from a number of small ‘breakouts’ in the landfill cap of the old ‘cells’.
Increased ‘leachate’ – water passing through waste and carrying its particles – was also considered a cause of the odour due to winter rainfall.
Other causes considered were the amount of fresh waste at the tipping face, the permeability of material used to cover waste, and old waste dug up from new sludge pits.
Steps are being taken to mitigate all potential causes, Barnes says, and breakouts are being covered by mulch and rubble: “This work [should] eliminate any further potential for odour to be released beyond the boundary of the landfill.”
An anonymous Gibbston resident is more philosophical: “It certainly can be fragrant but at the end of the day it’s a rubbish tip.
“I think they do an amazing job of running it. Everyone makes rubbish and no one wants it near them. They close their brain as soon as it goes in the bin. Where the hell’s it going to go?
“The rubbish tip has been there a long time and the houses are coming in afterwards.
“Sometimes it was pretty revolting though – it can be there for weeks and other times nothing.”
Resident and river-surfing pioneer Jon Imhoof adds: “We’ve hardly noticed it and my concern is [publicity] could affect the reputation of the valley, tourism and land values.
“We’ve smelled it although I understand something is being done to rectify it.”
Barnes says council’s discussed with Scope the need to communicate with residents about how the landfill is managed.
As the problem occurs in winter, Barnes expects talks between both parties next autumn.