Floods that slammed us last week – Biblical in some respects and the worst for a while but certainly not for a century – did what violent events always do: bring out the best and the worst in us.
Friends rescued friends and tucked them up in homes away from clay and slips and spouting runoff.
The fire brigade siren seemed to measure the severity of rain that had turned gardens into flood plains, undermined foundations and gouged miniature gorges where water had never been seen before. Reminding us hourly of the indefatigable service, training, practical common sense and ingenuity that the island’s volunteers turn on for us.
And Tahi Road went under water, again.
The old kiwi farming notion that good fences make good neighbours can probably be extended, in our more suburban times, to include good drains. They are certainly in the planning rulebook – stormwater easements are an obligation of property ownership and a recipe for thorough forethought.
Whether or not they are still treated by the council’s planning department with the thoroughness that we deserve in these times of ad hoc building on the remaining steep sections is doubtful, given ample evidence over the last week.
It isn’t rocket science. At least one half of the island’s preschoolers – let loose after the stormy night – now know that piling rocks into that new stream in the garden will produce a pretty satisfactory pond in no time.
The old Waiheke County Council, disestablishing the island’s rubbish tip, spent considerable ratepayer money wrestling with the problem of ensuring that future leachate wouldn’t get carried down to the sea.
The most devastating news was of yet another flood in the Tawaipareira valley that stretches back towards Seaview Road and where flooded machinery running into hundreds of thousands of dollars had already been lost in floodwaters since the arrival at the mouth of the valley of the huge concrete pad where squats the transfer station.
It was built by Transpacific Industries after it won the Waiheke waste contract from the soon-to-be-defunct Auckland City( under administration by a Wellington-appointed statutory manager).
The concrete pad and bulwark of skips awaiting removal to the city was almost certainly constructed with inadequately engineered drainage pipes to take and process stormwater from the valley’s very considerable catchment.
The loss of the Only Water bottling factory – one of the island’s growing business success stories – seems a gut-wrenching tragedy and we wish the team there every success in recovering from the disaster. Young businesses are rare and precious resources.
So far, responses from the monolithic council have been minimal, bordering on fatuous, and one is dismayed all over again by the dislocation and flat denial where once there was a county foreman and an awarded council works team connected and responsible to the county chairman and the community.
It seems these rains are not over and it will behove us to put all the weight we can behind a properly engineered solution – and demand that it be implemented.
(I nearly typed ‘enquiry’ there, but enquiries, in the 21st century, tend to be a deadly form of denial, the troubles of small communities ranked behind equally mysterious sinkholes in importance and left to fester safely removed from democratic oversight.)
The question of liability sits there, but no-one in the council structure that got us to this point is ever likely to lose a night’s sleep or the roof over their head for the error.
And it will be ratepayers who pay if the insurers kick up.
Heaven knows how much toxic outfall poured from the city through sewers in most of the ‘leafy suburbs’ that could have been fixed over decades.
Rates were always designed to do this stuff.
Instead the issues were comprehensively ignored – by the same plague of bureaucratic straightjackets and block-voting councillor parsimony – until solutions now apparently require monstrous sacrifices of amenity.
When the money is diverted long enough, you have the mayhem we as a city now endure.
Nick Smith is not the mayor of Auckland and, in election year, I am hoping Auckland’s National MPs will be held accountable for the whirlwinds raised by their Auckland supercity. •