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The rain, the drains, the buses

by Ian Apperley
A week or so after 30 year, 50 year, 80 year, and 100 year rain events, no answers are forthcoming about why the city was shutdown because of a slip and a large puddle. Nor are any answers forthcoming on what the Wellington City Council in particular is going to do about the woeful state of its storm water. It’s a shambles and, in the middle of all of this, emergency management was really nowhere to be seen.

This morning the Mayor released a statement saying that the Council might bring up the spend on drains to the tune of $18 million over the next three years. Might because it is only a proposal. And the work will only address some of the areas that are prone to flooding. If it goes ahead.

She says while all three rainstorms were particularly heavy, it is the City Council’s responsibility to prevent flooding as much as practicable. “While the city has generally coped well with the last three storms, there is more work to do. We will be looking at both short-term ‘quick fixes’ and also longer-term responses that will take into account modelling on climate change and projected sea-level rises.”

If you consider “generally coping well” to include thousands of commuters being stranded, businesses being shutdown, major arterial routes blocked, and people’s homes under water tainted with sewage, then I’d hate to see what happens when we don’t cope.

What is unclear is whether the proposed $18 million is in addition to the $16.8 million that is in the plan over the next few years. And regardless, it’s a pittance when you consider that there is hundreds of millions set aside for projects that will not address the issues of underlying infrastructure.

Still, I did suggest canals and it looks like we might get our first one with the city mooting a stream from Basin to Beach. Gondolas anyone?

The public transport fail in the rain was epic. We can all understand when a slip happens that train tracks will be affected. We know that train tracks need to be checked and we know that stations were flooded. So no trains.

But the bus situation was a fiasco. The misinformation was epic. There were no buses, there were some buses, and then multiple reasons as to why there were no, or some, buses.

Mayor Ray Wallace said MetLink only put nine additional buses on to cope with the large numbers of people trying to get back to the Hutt Valley and that clearly wasn’t good enough.

But Metlink had told everyone there were no buses. They said there were no buses because they would have just got stuck in the traffic. So. Eventually, like everyone else, they would have cleared and at least some people would have made it home.

But then it got stranger. I asked them why no buses and the conversation went something like this:

ML: The train stations were flooded, so we couldn’t use buses, because they stop at the train stations.

IA: Were all the train stations flooded?

ML: No.

IA: Is there not a plan for alternate bus stops in place so that if a train station is not available you can pick up and drop off people at another location? (This is how the city does it).

IA: No.

SP: So you can’t just move the bus past a puddle in order to let people on or off?

No response.

Really? What on earth happened. There were nine buses. The buses were on. The buses were off. The buses couldn’t get through traffic. The buses would have to stop at flooded train stations with no other options for where they could or could not stop.

So the entire bus backup system abjectly failed in the face of a rain storm.

What a shambles.

Back to the WCC:

Cr Iona Pannett says while many millions of dollars have been spent on flood mitigation work in parts of the CBD, Island Bay, Miramar and Tawa over the past two decades, “it is clear we have new challenges. We are taking this issue very seriously – and I am impressed that our engineers have worked long hours in the past couple of weeks to not only deal with the floods themselves but also produce comprehensive reports and recommendations on spending priorities.”

More nonsense. I’ve lived in the Eastern Suburbs for four decades and I can tell you the same places always flood. Again and again and again. These are not new challenges. Just how much has actually been spent? Next time we have a rain event, give me a call, and I’ll point out the flooding.

I would be incredibly surprised if the engineers, those Council officers responsible for the infrastructure, have not been telling their lord and master, the Chief Asset Officer, and the Council proper, that they need more resource. In other words, my sources tell me that the officers have been telling the bosses for years and years they need more resource and for years and years they get crumbs.

Meanwhile after the entire city had been shutdown by a slip and a massive puddle at the new interchange, there appeared to be no coordinated response by anyone. Information poured out from WREMO, NZTA, MetLink, the GWRC, the WCC, other local sources and I watched the lot. It was clear they weren’t talking to each other (check Twitter), which calls into question whether the capability to manage a disaster, let alone a slip and puddle, is actually possible. Who is in charge in this kind of event? Nobody is.

Well said the Mayor, this is a good idea to make sure our emergency kits are up to date.

Sure, perhaps I should start carrying it around so that when I can’t get home, then I can pitch a tent somewhere. I’ll make sure I have an inflatable boat in my kit as well.

It seems to me that we should start trying to get some independent reports and analysis into what this Council is actually up to. Because services seem, in my opinion, to be getting worse. Why is it that our basic infrastructure appears to not be being invested in while other, arguable less important, things are?

Why is the Council and Mayor not asking the Chief Asset Officer and Chief Executive why flooding is still occurring, after years and years and years? Has the Mayor and Council down voted advice from Council Officers on the amount of money that the engineers, the CAO, and the CE need, in order to keep the infrastructure up to date in favour of pet projects?

Who knows. But I would bet good money that the council officers have been warning of this for years and have been ignored. This simply is not good enough.

This article was first published this morning on Ian Apperley’s Strathmore Park blog.