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Angry and emotional: Titahi Bay residents concerned about sewage overflows

Report by Mary Argue
There was an angry community meeting in Titahi Bay on Monday night, as Wellington Water and the Porirua City Council presented information about upgrades to the wastewater system.

“I’m not here to adjudicate a boxing match,” said Ngāti Toa chair Dr Taku Parai opening the meeting. “Everyone arrives with mana and leaves with mana,” said Dr Parai, representing iwi at the meeting with the Porirua City Council, Wellington Water and the Regional Council.

An emotional two-hours ended in a shared commitment to solutions, vows for transparency and a determination by the public to hold governing bodies to account.

About 70 locals turned up to Titahi Bay School for a presentation on solving sewage overflows and the role of the draft long-term plan.

Council members, including Mayor Anita Baker and chief executive Wendy Walker, sat in a row at the front of the school hall alongside Wellington Water engineers and its chief executive Colin Crampton.

The stage offered no place to hide from a frustrated public.

Wellington Water’s manager for environmental water quality Abby Jensen outlined plans for storage tanks reducing sewage overflows from 10 a year to two, wastewater treatment plant upgrades, and systematic inspections of homes to ensure downpipes were not flowing into wastewater gully traps.

“The big item at the moment for helping the environment and water quality is keeping stormwater out of our wastewater network,” Jensen said. When stormwater overwhelms the system it causes sewage overflows.

Then the public took to the floor.

Titahi Bay residents, some of whom have lived in the area for decades, recounted past grievances, feelings of being ignored by the council and anger at the deteriorated state of the infrastructure.

Titahi Bay surfer Willie McMahon was frustrated homeowners would not only foot the bill for their own pipes but also have to pour money into upgrading the public network, with the LTP revealing an expected 8% rates increase.

“We ultimately pay for the whole lot,” McMahon said.

Chair of the Titahi Bay Resident’s Association Graeme Ebbett wanted a promise that residents would not be paying for pipe upgrades he had done at his Terrace Rd address, only to find there was no public network to connect to.

Numerous questions and accusations forced council chief executive Wendy Walker to repeat the council was committed to transparency and to “doing it better”.

A local plumber lightened the mood when suggesting houses should require a pipes warrant of fitness, with the caveat that he was not trying to drum up business.

He suggested fixing the problem at the source. Broken pipes disconnected from houses “is something I see every day”, he said. “We are responsible for our own houses.”

Ngāti Toa chief executive Helmut Modlik agreed, and called on people to commit to solutions and not dwell on past problems.

“I think you fellas are getting the taste of suffering for poor judgment, workmanship, shameful behaviours, stupidity ecetera of the past. Well, whānau it’s done,” said Modlik.

He likened the stormwater running into the wastewater network to a flood in a laundry.

“You’ve got two jobs, one is to turn the water off and the other is to start mopping. It seems a lot of this kōrero is about mopping, mopping, mopping. We need to turn the damn water off.

“From Ngāti Toa’s perspective our interest is quite simple and that is the wellbeing of our people which is fundamentally linked to the wellbeing of our environment, our water and the whenua.

“I call on everyone to think of solutions,” said Modlik to a round of applause.

Titahi Bay Resident’s Association spokesperson Michelle Laurenson said it had taken a long time to get to this point, but felt they had turned a corner with the council.

“The presentation was good, it was slick. We believe now that they are committed to transparency and we will hold them to account.”

Mary Argue is a journalism student at Massey University in Wellington.

1 comment:

  1. Michelle Laurenson, 2. April 2021, 21:34

    After heavy rain yesterday the Porirua Wastewater Treatment Plant overflowed, again. Happens every time there is prolonged rain because investment to upgrade the plant and the network (stormwater and wastewater) to keep up with a growing catchment has not happened. It’s called ‘Sweating the assets’ and this poor management of asset depreciation has caused a concerning health & safety issue in Titahi Bay and prompted the public to call for a Hui with the Council. Whilst overall the meeting was positive, the above report by Mary Argue accurately captured the mood of those who attended. There were many more who wanted to attend, but despite the request to have the meeting at a later time of 7.30pm it suited the Council to have it 6pm.