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‘One Day, Someone Is Going To Drown’: Plimmerton Residents Issue Stark Warning To Council

Plimmerton residents have issued a stark warning to Porirua City councillors today, saying lives are at risk until action is taken to remedy the area’s inadequate stormwater system.

“Years of underinvestment, poor design and neglect have left many parts of Porirua with a stormwater system that simply isn’t up to the job. This has now proven to have had a devastating impact on Plimmerton and Karehana Bay, with more than 60 properties affected,” said Grace Allum, a spokesperson for the Plimmerton Flood Action Group.

“The rainfall on 29 November was major, but this isn’t a one-off event. The stormwater system in the Plimmerton area cannot cope with any sort of heavy rainfall. Some homes have flooded three times in the last five years. This is our reality. If the council doesn’t take action now then, one day, someone is going to drown,” councillors were told today, at the final Porirua City Council meeting of the year. “Significant work is desperately needed to create a stormwater system that is fit-for-purpose.”

The comments come after a flash flood ravaged homes in the northern Porirua suburb of Plimmerton on 29 November 2020. Around 60 properties were affected by the flooding, with 30 suffering internal damage from flood waters and 16 homes left uninhabitable.

“On the morning of 29 November, residents climbed into dangerous culverts and overflowing drains to clear the debris and try to save their homes. With flood waters more than waist-deep across parts of Karehana Bay, this was a civil defence emergency that put lives at risk,” Allum told councillors. “We are a community in crisis. We need your help and we need it now.”

--Campaign launched to lobby council for urgent action
Residents have banded together in the wake of the disaster, forming the Plimmerton Flood Action Group. So far, 45 locals have signed up to launch a coordinated campaign to lobby Porirua City Council and Wellington Water for urgent action.

Representatives spoke with councillors today and requested five immediate actions be taken [see below]. Jonathon Gear, a spokesperson for the Plimmerton Flood Action Group, says the list includes a review of the Plimmerton and Karehana Bay catchment areas, immediate action to address the failing WaStop check valve at Karehana Beach, and the public release of a maintenance calendar for the area’s drains and culverts.

“The Plimmerton Flood Action Group would like to thank emergency services and the Porirua City Council for their support in the days following the event. We welcome Wendy Walker’s announcement that a review of the flooding events is being undertaken. We would like to assist Porirua City Council with either developing the terms of reference of the review or be consulted on it as part of the process,” Gear says.

“We are hopeful that this review indicates that the council now understands how big an issue this is, and that work to improve the stormwater system will get underway in 2021,” he adds.

“We are also asking Porirua City Council to look at work undertaken by other councils, like our neighbours up the coast in Waikanae. As part of the Waikanae Floodplain Management Plan, Greater Wellington Regional Council undertook work that has provided flood protection to over 450 houses. A programme of house-raising was also undertaken in the Otaihanga area, to lift the worst-affected properties and protect them from a 1 in 100-year flood. How can Porirua City Council apply these learnings to Plimmerton?,” Gear asks.

--Flooding sadly not a surprise, residents say
Gear says the flood has sadly come as no surprise to residents, who have been raising concerns with the council for years, especially since the 2016 flood.

“For years, concerns about the failing stormwater system have fallen on deaf ears at the council. Some properties have flooded three times now, in 2016, 2019 and 2020, and those homeowners have raised concerns time and time again. The system is insufficient and poorly designed. It puts homes and lives at risk every time there is heavy rain,” Gear says.

“We rely on each other, as neighbours, to keep the drains clear and the water flowing every time there is rain. We hope the council and Wellington Water will agree that expecting local residents to climb into deep and fast-moving stormwater culverts during heavy rainfall isn’t a safe or sustainable way to address the flooding issues that result from a badly designed stormwater system,” Gear explains.

“Dozens of our neighbours are now forced to spend Christmas away from their homes, and face up to a year living in temporary accommodation while building repairs are undertaken. Families whose homes were partially flooded are now living in amongst a construction zone, and also face a long road back to normality,” he concludes.

--Action sought from councillors
Three Northern Ward councillors were invited to walk through some of the properties left uninhabitable following the flood.

“Councillors Euon Murrell and Josh Trlin visited some of the worst-affected properties in Plimmerton this week, to see first-hand the destruction left behind by the flood, and the long road ahead for the residents whose homes need to be completely gutted and refitted. We are grateful that councillors Murrell and Trlin are showing they understand how big an issue this really is. We are reliant on the support of all councillors to effect the change needed so that Plimmerton residents can feel safe in their own homes again,” Allum said after the council meeting on Wednesday.

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