Cracking the truth : June 2015 South Dunedin flood

OPINION received from Neil Johnstone
Sat, 10 Sep 2016 at 12:42 a.m.

Richard Stedman produces (below) a succinct review of the causes of, and failures after, the South Dunedin flood of June 2015. His frustrations appear to match those of Hilary Calvert that were published a few hours earlier. My reviews previously published on What if? Dunedin commencing back around February give more detail.

For your readers’ further consideration, Richard has highlighted the ‘200mm increase’ in flood level as a result of Portobello Road pumping station failures. The figure was derived by me, and appears in my review of the first DCC flood report. To my knowledge the only clear comparable DCC concessions have come from chief executive Sue Bidrose who admitted the figure publicly at the 20 June 2016 (yes, 2016) South Dunedin Action Group-organised public meeting, and subsequently.

The first DCC flood report (30 Nov 2015) is adamant that high groundwater was the cause of the flooding, and enough Councillors bought right into that excuse at the following Infrastructure Services Committee meeting. Just go back and view the video, if you’ve forgotten.

Dunedin City Council Published on Dec 7, 2015
Dunedin City Council – Council Meeting – November 30 2015
Discussion of the report starts at 1:09:52

The second (mudtank) DCC report of 26 April this year states: “Although Portobello Road’s performance did explain some of the length of time flooding was evident, much of the flooded area was below road level…” (para 31). No mention of increased depth of flooding there either, you will note.
[View report at Infrastructure Services Committee: Agenda & Reports 26 April (Part A, Item 5) pp 6-27.]

Neither DCC report mentions the additional depth of flooding caused by inaction at the Musselburgh pumping station.

History and ongoing design may rely on written commentaries. For the wellbeing of South Dunedin people, we must therefore continue to counter the misinformation contained in DCC reports, and in the more recent ORC (DCC-backed) South Dunedin “hazards” report. Even if ODT has switched off.

Related Posts at What if? Dunedin
8.3.16 [Review 1] Johnstone independent review of DCC report
19.5.16 [Review 2] Johnstone review of 2nd DCC report

Correspondence supplied
7.3.16 Letter, Chief Executive Sue Bidrose to Neil Johnstone
10.3.16 Response from Neil Johnstone to CE Bidrose

sue-bidrose-south-dunedin-a-changing-environment-radionz-co-nz-detailSue Bidrose at ORC/DCC hazards presentation [radionz.co.nz]

****

OPINION received from Richard Stedman
Fri, 9 Sept 2016 at 8:24 p.m.

The ODT editorial department is peopled by closed minds, a number of whom subscribe to the climate change/rising sea level mantra and therefore manipulate their content to support their distorted view of the world. Mr Morris is captured by the former/present regime at city hall, a fate which befalls every reporter assigned to that round once they get their feet under the table.

Two weeks ago I prepared an opinion piece re the election and South Dunedin, outlining some of the issues as I see them in the hope that it might be published. I thought it was honestly held opinion, but it was rejected because it added “nothing new” to the debate, yet they run to Cull at every turn and run column after column of repetitive nonsense.

The following is my submission submitted on 24/8 and rejected the same day in this message: “Thanks for this submission, but we have had a “deluge” of flood letters and op eds from all sides so I don’t feel the need to highlight the issue again at the moment – certainly if there’s not anything new in it, as such”.

I have seen little evidence of the cited “deluge”.

The South Dunedin flood of June 2015 may be a tipping point during next month’s local body election. Many voters will look at the burgeoning candidates list for the Dunedin City Council and ask “who will provide the cornerstone elements of responsibility, accountability and integrity?”

Residents and business owners in South Dunedin have been sorely tested in recent times through the failure of the DCC to maintain its infrastructure. Among those adversely affected were elderly residents at Radius Fulton Home, including a number of dementia patients, the most vulnerable in our community, who were subjected to floodwaters containing sewage and transferred from the safety of their home in a crisis beyond acceptance. Some were accommodated as far away as Balclutha and Oamaru and three months passed before the facility was re-opened.

Following the flood, obfuscation clouded the failures that led to the inundation of homes and businesses and the investigation and report into the affair was 12 months in gestation. Officials and councillors, captured by the twin mantras of climate change and rising sea level, avoided any suggestion of culpability to limit the likelihood of litigation, and offered no solace that might have been construed as admission of liability.

The mayor and others were quick to blame rising sea level causing increased groundwater, combined with an “extreme weather event”, the result of climate change, and went so far as suggesting that a planned retreat from South Dunedin may be necessary in the future. The rainfall was described as a one-in-100-year event then gradually downgraded, but none of these pretexts are realistic. Questions arise over who is responsible for what, and how serious are the threats of rising sea level, more frequent adverse weather caused by climate change, and the “sinking of South Dunedin”, not to mention “retreat”.

Dunedin and environs have been subjected to much larger weather events in the past. Flooding of the entire city is well recorded and in particular photographs of the 1923 flood depict rowing in floodwaters in the city as well as inundation in South Dunedin. During a storm in 1898 large tracts of St Clair Esplanade were destroyed by the sea which damaged many houses, leaving some partly suspended. More recently, the storms of 1968 were greater than last year’s, delivering 10% more rainfall. In 1968 there were 90 properties invaded by floodwater, whereas last year some 1200 properties were flooded and many contaminated with effluent. Clearly last year’s event was exceptional only for the damage created and lives disrupted.

At a public meeting in South Dunedin on June 20, more than 12 months after the event, those affected had an opportunity to hear an explanation in the hope that someone might take responsibility for the extent of the damage. Despite a good representation of councillors there was no empathy and no likelihood of accountability. What the meeting heard was a long explanation of how the three-waters system works, or doesn’t work, as the case may be, and of failure at the pumping station from chief executive, Dr Sue Bidrose and other staff. The question is “when did the city’s councillors abdicate?”

south-dunedin-flood-june-2015-radionz-co-nzSouth Dunedin June 2015 [radionz.co.nz]

It can be argued that the damage and distress was the result of neglect, but the DCC says problems at the pumping station added only 200mm to the flooding which would have occurred anyway. Which 200mm was it? Maybe the first 200mm flowed across the ground, reached blocked drains then deepened throughout the area, or perhaps the last 200mm increased the depth and entered homes and business premises carrying undesirable flotsam. Without the extra 200mm would the water have stopped at the thresholds rather than flowing inside?

What of the rising sea level threat? Is it as urgent and as devastating as the commissioner for the environment, some DCC councillors and the Green Party say? The Greens proffer that the Government should help to pay for the reconfiguration of South Dunedin. Why? There has been no disaster on the scale of the Canterbury earthquakes and there is no immediate danger condemning South Dunedin, for if sea level were to rise according to some projections, north Dunedin and other areas are also in jeopardy meaning protection on the coast is futile because the flat land would be inundated from the harbour.

Could it be that models of sea level rise around New Zealand are exaggerated and distorted by the multiplier effect have been grossly over stated? And do the $7 million apartment complex at the Esplanade to be completed next year and the DCC’s belated discussion on a South Dunedin hub indicate mixed messages on the subject?

There is no doubt that the infrastructure must be maintained to the highest level and upgrading implemented with haste. The seafront calls for a level-headed approach to protect the sandhills which shelter the city from the ocean. In the past a network of groynes captured the sand, maintaining a broad beach to dissipate the energy of the waves. The network succeeded for nearly 100 years, but without maintenance fell victim to the ocean, so is it time to reinstate a similar system and then plan carefully for the next 100 to 200 years?

Council says that infrastructure will require “tens of millions of dollars” we cannot afford, but plans to spend some $37 million on George Street and the Octagon, followed by development of the harbourside. These “tens of millions” surely must be re-allocated to South Dunedin for infrastructure, to build a second pumping station, and provide realistic coastal protection.

Dunedin needs new councillors who will make hard decisions, reduce spending on fripperies and attend to basics; people who are prepared to drill deep into reports and costings and who are not afraid to make unpalatable decisions when needed rather than govern with slogans and platitudes.

Declaration: Conrad Stedman is my nephew.

Posted by Elizabeth Kerr

Election Year. This post is offered in the public interest.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Cracking the truth : June 2015 South Dunedin flood

  1. Calvin Oaten

    But Neil what were these poor people to do? Having opened their mouths (led by Mayor Cull) and made grand claims of the cause being high ground water exacerbated by ‘sea level’ rise, short of having to recant and admit that they have literally no understanding of the problem, it seems that taking ‘time out’ (till June 2016 no less) to build a story vindicating their inadequacies is an admission that they are out of their depth (pun intended) on this matter.
    If we can get you Neil, onto council, then with the right leadership (Mayor Vandervis) South Dunedin’s woes could be solved. Here’s hoping.

  2. Elizabeth

    Sat, 10 Sep 2016
    Civil Defence chief steps aside, changes loom
    Dunedin City Council Civil Defence and rural fires manager Neil Brown (60), a 36-year council veteran, said yesterday was his last day in the role. […] His decision to depart comes as the council takes another step towards an Otago-wide Civil Defence management structure. DCC organisational development and performance group manager Marian Rillstone said the change had been agreed on “in principle” by Otago councils but still required final ratification by members of the Otago Civil Defence and Emergency Management group.

    Kerr, Elizabeth LGOIMA Flood Debrief Notes 2015

    civil-defence-dunedin-coordination-office-radionz-co-nzCivil Defence Dunedin coordination office [radionz.co.nz]

  3. Gurglars

    Those who blame the floods in South Dunedin on global warming headed by “Cull de Mayor” should read this exerpt taken from the ODT September 19 1916.

    “The gale of yesterday was responsible for further demolition of the eastern portion of the new marine drive at St Clair. The effects of the sea at high-water yesterday afternoon were easily noticeable.

    The drive was constructed with a footpath on its outer edge eight or ten feet wide, but with the subsidence of the embankment following the washing away of the rock-wall this footpath has already practically disappeared in places.

    This will indicate the extent to which the embankment has been eaten into, and the manner in which the original seaward line of the wall has been altered.

    No easier prey to high seas and tides could be offered than this portion of the drive in its present unprotected condition.”

    1916 Gales, erosion and open to damage from the sea.

    Sounds like the climate and the weather have been shaping Dunedin with or without Dave Cull and Jinty McTavish’s hallucinations.

  4. Hype O'Thermia

    Climate change strikes again! http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/84380387/cliff-face-slip-in-mokau-comes-crashing-down-on-sunday-morning
    “Cliff face slips in Mokau and comes ‘crashing down’ on Sunday morning”

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