1 Sep 2016

South Dunedin residents face flooding future

8:02 pm on 1 September 2016

South Dunedin residents - who are caught between sinking land and rising groundwater - have started talking about their uncertain future.

The Dunedin City Council and Otago Regional Council this morning held the first of eight public meetings about what went wrong in the low-lying suburb's major flood last June, and what could be done in the future.

The first of eight public meetings about the south Dunedin flooding was held today.

The first of eight public meetings about the south Dunedin flooding was held today. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

The flood damaged more than 1200 properties, racked up an insurance bill of about $28 million and sparked a debate about the area's future.

South Dunedin was named New Zealand's most threatened community by rising sea level after the flood. A year on, Otago Regional Council director for engineering, hazards and science Gavin Palmer said people were ready to talk.

Dr Gavin Palmer from the Otago Regional Council

Dr Gavin Palmer from the Otago Regional Council Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

"From the response we've had the past week and this morning, people are really engaged and sharing their own experiences of South Dunedin," Dr Palmer said.

There were initially more council staffers than residents at today's meeting, although about 15 locals attended by the end.

They were shown a presentation of the environmental history of the area.

It was a reminder the suburb was built on swampy marshland and filled-in lagoons, and the water table had never been far beneath the surface.

The meeting was told the water was rising, partly because of global climate change, though it was unclear how fast. But the suburb also appeared to be sinking, at about a millimetre a year.

Some residents accepted that, but others, like Jim Moffat, did not.

He said the bureaucrats were blaming climate change, when the water had been just below the surface since the suburb was built and nothing had really changed.

"I'm absolutely infuriated at the council's bad management," Mr Moffat said.

Surrey Street, South Dunedin.

Hundreds of South Dunedin homes were affected by the flooding in June 2015. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

Fellow local David Prior was just glad to know more.

"I always find these meetings helpful, they're great", Mr Prior said.

Mr Prior said he still had a few questions about the outcome of it all, but said it was good to have the council there to put the community in the picture.

But others said they needed specific guidance about the future of the area now, so they could make decisions about their homes.

One woman from Tainui said it was good to know that they were all talking from the same basis of information, but asked where were the solutions for the area's future.

"How long away is climate change going to be, and what should I do about my house?" she said.

Dunedin City Council chief executive Sue Bidrose was personally fronting every meeting.

Dunedin City Council chief executive Sue Bidrose

Dunedin City Council chief executive Sue Bidrose Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

Dr Bidrose said that was the 10th briefing she had given in a fortnight and though some people were grumpy, the feedback had been overwhelmingly positive.

She said the greatest piece of feedback had been appreciation from people who did not know the wastewater system and stormwater system had two completely set of pipes.

"If you don't know that, it's very hard to understand how the flood happened, so just getting that understanding out there has been very good."

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