26 July 2019
New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) personnel are making good progress as they take part in the massive operation to remove thousands of tonnes of rubbish that have soiled the West Coast’s pristine landscape.
About 50 personnel from the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN), New Zealand Army and Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) are providing logistics for and working alongside Department of Conservation (DOC) staff and about 100 volunteers as they strive to clear the area before predicted spring floods in September.
RNZAF Aircraftman Jasmine Cochrane said some of the rubbish was buried under rocks or silt and some was entangled with fallen trees and shrubs.
“There’s a lot of digging, pulling and some heavy lifting,” Aircraftman Cochrane said. “Apart from five-minute breaks and a quick lunch we just plough through, because we want to get this done.
“I don’t think it’s too big a job. We are giving it a really good crack and I think we will be able to make an impact,”
RNZN Able Marine Technician Liam Horner said the sight of rubbish almost everywhere felt daunting initially.
“After working for several hours I would often look behind me and see how much rubbish I had picked up and I feel better,” Able Marine Technician Horner said.
Despite the scale of the job, NZDF personnel are hopeful that together with DOC staff and the volunteers they will be able to get the job done.
Department of Conservation incident controller Owen Kilgour said the NZDF personnel, who had been assigned to collect rubbish on the river-flats and the lower, 16-kilometre section of Fox River, were making progress.
The two agencies were currently working on a plan to tackle the rubbish in Zone 3, which contained 64 kilometres of coastline and would be more difficult to access, Mr Kilgour said.
About 100 volunteers have been working in Zone 1, which is the area five kilometres downstream of the breached landfill and where most of the rubbish spilt from the landfill is scattered.
Volunteers have spent 1761 volunteer days working on the clean-up and cleared about half of the 389 hectares that comprise Zone 1.
DOC estimates about 1270 hectares and 64 kilometres of coastline have been contaminated from rubbish spilt from a disused landfill near Fox River during severe flooding in March.
Fifty-eight personnel in total from the RNZN, Army and RNZAF and eight military vehicles are currently helping in the Fox River rubbish spill clean-up and 13 more personnel are travelling today to Fox River.
An RNZAF A109 light utility helicopter will deploy on 30 July to remove bags of rubbish and transport DOC staff and volunteers to and from remote locations.