John MacDonald: Council opened a can of worms over Bromley stench

The Christchurch wastewater treatment plant fire last year. Photo: Star News
The Christchurch wastewater treatment plant fire last year. Photo: Star News
OPINION: The Christchurch City Council opened a can of worms yesterday.

It has decided - 199 days after the fire at the wastewater plant in Bromley - that some residents are going to get some sort of compensation.

It hasn't had final sign-off, but that's expected to happen tomorrow week.

I don't think anyone is going to complain about the fact that the council is going to do something - even if it has been embarrassed into doing it, with the community meeting happening the other night and the fact that pretty much everyone in Christchurch has smelt the stench at some point and pretty much everyone in Christchurch is talking about it.

Nevertheless, by doing the right thing, the council has opened a can of worms because how on earth is it going to decide who gets compensation and who doesn't?

The statement it put out yesterday said residents living close to the wastewater plant would be the ones who qualify for compensation.

The mayor was quoted as saying: "Residents living near the plant are bearing the brunt of the stench. They have told us their power bills have gone up because they are using dehumidifiers and fans all the time because they cannot leave their windows open.''

She went on to say: "Councillors have indicated that they want to make support available to households in the immediate vicinity of the plant."

And this, I think, is where the can of worms is going to come into it - because smell can go anywhere, can't it? The stench doesn't think to itself "ooh, I'm getting close to Linwood Ave, I better turn around and go back to the immediate vicinity of the wastewater plant".

It doesn't think: "ooh, if I don't watch it, that easterly will have me in the central city in no time. I might just lie low for a bit."

That doesn't happen, does it? Smell goes wherever it wants. The smell from that wastewater plant has effectively got a key to the city, and it is loving it.

And for the council to think it's going to be able to limit any sort of compensation to people in the "immediate vicinity" - as it said yesterday - well, tell them they're dreaming.

And I'll tell you now, the can of worms isn't going to be limited to working out who should and who shouldn't qualify for compensation on the basis of where they live - and what "immediate vicinity" actually means.

It's also going to be a can of worms when the council starts getting bombarded by the compensation claims and has the job of working out what's legit and what isn't.

It's not just the smell stopping people from enjoying their day-to-day lives that people are upset about. There are also photos popping up on social media from people who think their houses have been damaged too.

Peeling paint, all that stuff. How the hell is the council going to work all that out? It could be another EQC all over again.

And we know, don't we - through the earthquake experience - that some people will try anything on.

Now this is not me saying that the Bromley residents who are saying their paint jobs and other things at their houses are packing a sad because of the wastewater plant fire, are trying to rip off the system. I'm not saying that.

But the minute some people get a whiff of an opportunity, they'll try it on. And I think it won't be long before the city council finds itself overwhelmed trying to deal with this compensation issue.

-By John MacDonald, Canterbury Mornings host on Newstalk ZB Christchurch


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