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Sewage remains a stain on Cockburn

Masterton District Council [MDC] councillor Tim Nelson asked pointed questions at an infrastructure and services committee meeting on Wednesday about progress on fixing wastewater flooding into people’s yards – including whether rates relief was appropriate and whether all those affected have yet been contacted by council officers.

Properties in the Cockburn St area have been plagued in recent years by wastewater flooding into their yards in severe rain events. Some residents have been provided with portaloos by MDC when this happens because their own toilets are not usable.

A tabled update report summarised what it described as “Cockburn Street Sewer Works” and said there are seven tanks in the ground.

“These jobs will be complete once the last two driveways are reinstated. Three tanks pending installation. Discussions are ongoing with the owners to get permission to install them,” the report said.

“Ten properties being looked at for the next stage. Eight of these will be installation of a reflux valve only. Aiming to install all works during the summer season.”

The council officer presenting the report was questioned by Nelson, but his replies were frequently inaudible to media present at the meeting.

“I see eight properties will have the installation of a reflux valve only, and I do recall council staff and the former chief executive specifically saying that was a completely inappropriate measure to be put into these properties because it simply shifts the issue. Families or households that have those reflux valves installed don’t have access to their water,” Nelson said. He inquired whether rates remission would be appropriate for such households.

“I would like to know if and when those families have been contacted around the possibility, or the certainty in my view, of a rates remission. Have any of those families had that information shared with them?” he asked.

Nelson also asked if some residents who had been given portaloos were aware of the tank option.

“Families who have had the option of having a reflux valve or a tank installed – the tank would give them access to their water and their property in the event of a weather event – have chosen to have a reflux valve, which means they will not have access to water on their section during a [weather]event,” he said.

MDC finance manager David Paris said when a reflux valve is installed water does still flow into a property.

“When the sewer stops surcharging, the reflex valve opens automatically and lets go whatever is in the pipe. The water still flows into the property,” he said.

“My understanding is we’ve identified those first 10 properties for the tanks. The balance we haven’t confirmed whether the tanks are needed or not. And we don’t have funding for tanks, but the reflux valves have been put in as a measure to stop any surcharging onto people’s private property.”

During an extended period of rain, portaloos might be required for those properties while the reflux valve is closed, and the sewer is surcharging, Paris said.

Paris also addressed the question of rates relief.

“We have received requests to consider compensation from three property owners and at the moment we are still in discussions around the solution that’s going to be installed for those owners. We looked at what rates were being paid and whether the property was uninhabitable or not, which is what the words in the remissions policy [say],” he said.

“The policy isn’t specific on a formula on how to calculate how much rates should be remitted. If it’s the 15 days when they had portaloos on site and it’s only for the water and wastewater rate, we are talking $50. We thought $50 offered in compensation would be insulting.”


Public Interest Journalism funded through NZOnAir

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