That sinking feeling?

Poor South Dunedin. At the moment it seems as if the suburb is being besieged from all sides.

First, it was the heavy rain of June 2015 and subsequent floods that devastated the area (and its infrastructure's ability to cope) and left behind a wake of destruction, a great deal of heartbreak, anguish and anger, and an estimated bill of $138 million (taking into account insurance payouts and the ongoing economic and social impact).

Only months later, in November, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright released a major report calling for an overhaul of the way New Zealand is preparing for sea-level rise.

The report stated South Dunedin was among the areas in New Zealand most at risk from the effects of global warming - including higher rainfall, extreme weather events, rising sea and groundwater levels, and increased beach erosion.

The suburb had the "most troubling example'' of high groundwater levels in the country, faced a greater risk from flooding and liquefaction (in earthquakes), and was particularly at risk due to its low-lying nature and its geographic history as marshland.

The latest revelations are that the area could be sinking.

Information obtained by the Otago Daily Times under the Official Information Act, and reported recently in this newspaper, show preliminary results from a report by GNS Science and the University of Otago's School of Surveying indicate subsidence of between 2mm and 5mm a year in the reclaimed, low-lying areas of South Dunedin, near the margin of Otago Harbour.

Contributing to the sinking feeling is the fact subsidence would hasten the impact of sea-level rise.

The Otago Regional Council has now added its report - "The Natural Hazards of South Dunedin'' - to the mix.

It considers the extent and effects of sea-level rise effects on South Dunedin.

There are clearly significant and difficult decisions to be made in the short and long term.

Could it be time to "pull the plug'' on the suburb and begin working towards a long-term staged retreat?

Or should money be poured into infrastructure in the hopes of stemming the tide?

One is simply unimaginable, the other surely impractical.

Between the two extremes has to be a more pragmatic approach.

After all, this is a suburb of some 10,000 people, containing schools, businesses, industries, sports grounds and recreation facilities.

We are dealing with homes, livelihoods and neighbourhoods, financial security and physical and emotional connections.

This is an important and historic part of our vibrant city.

It is not as simple as upping stumps - and neither should we do so.

There is no cause for undue alarm.

There is time to discuss the ramifications of the various reports and scenarios, and time to find and implement solutions.

But we must begin to do so now.

The problem cannot be ignored in the hope it will go away.

South Dunedin is not alone in its challenges, which means there may be wider support for finding solutions.

A unified and apolitical approach is clearly essential, too.

Many in South Dunedin feel let down by the authorities, so transparency, communication and participation are going to be vital.

The present Dunedin City Council and Otago Regional Council - and future ones - need to be mindful of this.

It has been reassuring to hear the mayor's assertions the council cares about the suburb and it will not simply be hung out to dry.

And a building application, at present making its way through the resource consent process, will be something of a test for the area and may indicate the way forward - in the immediate future at least.

People may be feeling bogged down by the problems, perplexed about the solutions, and anxious about the future, so it is important to remember time is still on our side - for the moment.

And we can take the power back. Being proactive, not just reactive, is the way that will let us control the shape of our city.

Comments

Take the power back from whom? Yet, I like this opinioniste and the cut of their gib (yacht), for writing as 'We'.

 

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