Council buyout of property possible

Dave Cull.
Dave Cull.
The idea of property purchases in South Dunedin has been floated as the Dunedin City Council signals a desire to help homeowners threatened by rising ground water.

That was despite a warning from Mayor Dave Cull that the cost of tackling the problem, financially and in social disruption, could be ''huge''.

His comments came as councillors at yesterday's full council meeting voted to investigate a work programme to tackle rising ground water in South Dunedin and other parts of the city.

That would include possible responses to a range of sea-level and climate-change scenarios, and the budgetary implications of each.

It also included a reassurance the council would try to ensure nobody was ''seriously disadvantaged'' by ''any measures taken to deal with the challenges''.

Jinty MacTavish
Jinty MacTavish
Mr Cull said the community was ''quite understandably'' nervous about talk of managed retreat or other options for South Dunedin.

The reassurance was designed to show the residents would be left with ''something better than what we are facing at the moment''.

That meant if homeowners had to be bought out, purchases would be done in an equitable way, involving sums that allowed them to move to more expensive areas, Mr Cull said.

That could come at a cost, but the council needed to act to address the ''serious implications'' facing South Dunedin, he said.

Research showed ground water was already close to, or at, the surface in parts of South Dunedin, meaning the ground had little or no capacity to soak up rainfall during heavy downpours like June's flood.

The water table was also influenced by sea levels, meaning as climate change fuelled sea-level rise, problems in South Dunedin would only get worse, Mr Cull said.

''Obviously, given the extent and severity of problems and the predictions, these problems will cost the community a huge amount of money and disruption and dislocation, whatever happens.

''We need to send a strong message to our community that we have got this in our sights ... I think that's the least they deserve,'' Mr Cull said.

His comments came as councillors at yesterday's meeting considered a report outlining the performance of the South Dunedin stormwater network during June's flooding.

The event, which caused more than $30 million in damage, was blamed on the sheer volume of rainfall, exacerbated by high ground water, a faulty pumping station and a stormwater network that struggled to cope.

The report's findings were accepted by most councillors, but blasted by some, including Cr Lee Vandervis, who suggested shoddy council maintenance was to blame.

Cr Andrew Whiley went further, calling on the council to ''apologise'' to the people of South Dunedin.

That was rejected by Mr Cull, who described the comments as ''fanciful imagination'' and demanded they be withdrawn.

Cr Whiley agreed to, but was forced to withdraw again after describing the situation as ''bull...''

Council staff have already rejected liability for the flooding, based on advice from the council's lawyers and its insurer.

Yesterday's debate came days after a report by the Parliamentary Environment Commissioner showed 2683 of Dunedin's homes were at risk from sea-level rise, mainly in South Dunedin.

That followed a report from Beca, commissioned last year, which recommended a $75 million network of pumps and wells to draw groundwater away from South Dunedin over the coming decades.

Cr Neville Peat yesterday questioned whether the June flood showed the first stages of Beca's programme should be accelerated, while Cr Lee Vandervis rejected any ''scurrilous'' suggestions South Dunedin should be abandoned.

Cr Jinty MacTavish said the South Dunedin flood should be a ''warning bell'' to the council to act, rather than ''being an ostrich'' and leaving the bill to later generations.

Cr Andrew Noone stressed the ''sky isn't falling'' and the council had time to make long-term decisions, while Cr David Benson-Pope said it was important to raise public awareness.

Cr John Bezett cautioned against open-ended promises of support for homeowners, saying that ''has the potential to bankrupt the city'', but Mr Cull said he made no apology for trying to improve things.

''I think that's our responsibility.''

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