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Ōmārama Gazette

August 2022
Flood event -  time for a debrief?
 
NB Updates to this story will be published here as they are received.

When is an emergency not an emergency?

That is the question on everyone's minds as they as they grapple with the aftermath of the Ahuriri River and Ōmārama Stream flood.
No question, there is widespread anger over the Waitaki District Council response to the event and its aftermath, and there is resentment over issues the community had raised many times prior to the flood which were not resolved and made matters worse.

There has been complaints council communication with the township and residents since the flood has been either non-existent, negligible or late.
Strong feelings have been voiced that the council relies too heavily on volunteers to do its job.

And it’s not just the council in the firing line.
The weedy and overgrown state of the lower Ōmārama Stream prior to the flood is considered a contributing factor to causing a clogged and overloaded waterway.
And it is the source of long-term frustration for the residents alongside the stream who are forced to deal with that ethereal and notoriously duck-shoving group – 'ECanLinzDocandWDC' – to try to make any difference.
People want to be heard and for things to change.
People are talking ‘rates revolt’.
People are angry.

FIRSTLY, WHY WASN'T A STATE OF EMERGENCY CALLED?

It was an extreme weather event for the town, the Ōmārama Stream not only broke its banks but forced its way out of its course, chose Omarama Avenue as a new channel, and poured itself into the camping ground and nearby properties with a force such that it destroyed whatever was in its path.
Further down the line residents Murray and Sharon Stuart’s caravan was lifted and carried more than the length of a rugby field to lodge in trees at the very far reaches of their property.
In all, at least 100 people were evacuated – 60 from the camping ground plus residents, including families, from homes along the avenue from the Ōmārama Stream Bridge to Ōmārama Hot Tubs.
The evacuations were voluntary and carried out by Ōmārama's sole charge policeman with the help of Fenz Ōmārama Fire brigade volunteers. A welfare centre, staffed by those same volunteers, was set up at the Ōmārama Hall in the night and early morning, and helped about 30 displaced people.
The town water supply was compromised.
Residents woke to impassable roads, bridge washouts and debris – branches, roots, gravel, general detritus - backed up in properties and strewn for miles, garages and basements which had been inundated leaving tidemarks at about ¾ metre off the ground, and sodden carpets and furniture.
The hardest hit businesses were, first and foremost, the Top 10 Holiday Park, followed closely by Ōmārama Hot Tubs, but other smaller and significant businesses along the path of the flood waters have also been calling their insurance companies.

SO, WHAT IS THE CRITERIA FOR CALLING A STATE OF LOCAL EMERGENCY?

Under the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act 2002 section 4 (a) an emergency is
“is the result of any happening, whether natural or otherwise, including, without limitation, any explosion, earthquake, eruption, tsunami, land movement, flood, storm, tornado, cyclone, serious fire, leakage or spillage of any dangerous gas or substance, technological failure, infestation, plague, epidemic, failure of or disruption to an emergency service or a lifeline utility, or actual or imminent attack or warlike act; and
(b)causes or may cause loss of life or injury or illness or distress or in any way endangers the safety of the public or property in New Zealand or any part of New Zealand;”
Yes, this event ticks those two boxes.
But the decision makers also must consider that the event; “cannot be dealt with by emergency services, or otherwise requires a significant and co-ordinated response under this Act.”
And, in this event, emergency services and police were able to manage the situation.
Declaring a state of local emergency would have given powers to the Waitaki Emergency Operations Centre that would not usually be available to "protect the safety of the public or property", and that are also “designed” to help recover from an emergency”.
This covers a multitude of services that can be put in place because of the emergency – accommodation, welfare, waste disposal, sewerage and so on.
Because of language used in council media releases from the Operations Centre there was some confusion over whether it had actually called a "state of local emergency".
However, in an interview with Radio New Zealand’s Kim Hill on Tuesday morning, Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said that, while the emergency management team were “certainly looking after things and so on,
“…We haven’t activated…we haven’t declared an emergency because we are coping with things.”
On Monday, in an email the Ōmārama Gazette asked Waitaki District Council chief executive Alex Parmley and Civil Defence emergency management officer Ewen Graham why a civil defence emergency had not been called.
“The overall feeling of the community is, although the sole charge police officer and volunteers managed the event well, this would have been of great assistance for the subsequent decisions which had to be made during the ‘recovery’ – clean-up – phase,” the email said.
As well, the Gazette asked Mr Parmley and Mr Graham if they had considered a meeting of council staff, Environment Canterbury, emergency services and members of the community to ensure future plans and protocols were fit for purpose and worked as they should.
Mr Parmley and Mr Graham did not to respond ahead of deadline. However, the response will be published once it is received.

UPDATE: Tuesday, August 9, 2022
COUNCIL’S RESPONSE:

"A Civil Defence Emergency is a collective decision between several internal and external stakeholders, this includes emergency services. A Civil Defence Emergency declaration was not made as no additional powers were required to respond to the event.   
You can read more about States Of Emergency at the link below:
Factsheet-declaring-states-of-local-emergency.pdf (civildefence.govt.nz) 
We have held a debrief from this event which includes planning for future events. Further to this, Ewen Graham is liaising with the Ahuriri Community Board for a debrief with emergency responders. We also conduct ongoing training for Council Staff who move from their regular positions to roles within the EOC. "

[The Omarama Gazette has also asked for all information pertaining to the decision made whether or not to call a state of emergency under an Official Information Act request.]

Before making its decision, the emergency response group must get the advice of others including Police and Fenz. In light of that, the Ōmārama Gazette has also requested official information held by Ōmārama Police about the events of Monday night and Tuesday morning concerning the event in Ōmārama and its surrounds.
The council is part of the Otago Civil Defence Emergency Management Group, and its Civil Defence Emergency Management is legislated to provide a “coordinated and integrated” approach to the way significant risks and hazards are managed in the district, "with a focus on 4R's": Reduction, Readiness, Response as well as the Recovery phase.

🔻ANDY AND EMMA MOORE’S STORY

The couple arrived at the Ōmārama Hot Tubs complex on Tuesday to find the septic tank overflowing and groundwater coming up through it.
The tank had to be emptied so repairs could be made.
The first time it was emptied Andy said he did not know “what to do with it”, or who to contact about the problem.
The first tanker load was trucked to Twizel to the Mackenzie District Council’s facility and the Moores paid for it to be emptied there.
As the second load was about to go, they realised that, along with the cost, there could be additional problems because the waste was being emptied in another district.
So, Andy arranged to meet with Ahuriri Community Board member Ross Menzies and a SouthRoads' representative and, after consultation by phone with the council, it was agreed the waste could be taken to the Ōmārama Wastewater plant for disposal.
However, the tanker was turned around at the gates by an employee who told Andy he had just been informed he could not dump the waste at the sewage treatment plant after all.
This was followed up by a phone call confirming the council position.
“Because I don’t pay rates to use the pond, I am not allowed to use the pond.”
Andy was in “disbelief”.
“ Under the circumstances, they could have helped another person in a shitty situation. I thought that we could help each other, but no.”
Consequently, four tanker loads at 12,500 litres a time were trucked to Twizel and payment made to the Mackenzie District Council for the use of its facility.
“Yes, insurance will cover it.” But the point was, along with there being no communication, and no advice, the council decision was inflexible and meanspirited given the circumstances, Andy said.
Apart from help from Ōmārama Police and the community there was no help, it was "frustrating".
“We felt completely on our own, no communication, no advice, not a phone call, and we had to do what we had to do.”
Andy and Emma both hope the response to the emergency will be carefully looked at and reviewed to make sure necessary improvements are made.
On Monday, the Ōmārama Gazette emailed Waitaki District Council senior operations engineer David Inwood to ask for an explanation of the decision regarding the septic tank.
“I understand there were issues regarding the clearing of septic tanks in the flooded Ōmārama Hot Tubs complex and that, even though it would have aided recovery from an extreme event, the Hot Tubs was not permitted to empty septic tank and grey water at the nearby council-managed Ōmārama Treatment plant but instead had to truck waste to Twizel. Would you please give the council perspective on this?" the email asked.
Mr Inwood did not to respond ahead of publication. However, the response will be published once it is received.
THE COUNCIL RESPONSE:
"The recent weather events across the Waitaki district caused several obstacles for water services. During this time, there were direct access issues to the Omarama Treatment Plant and Council’s Health and Safety protocols could have become compromised. Every owner of septic and holding tanks need to use an accredited contractor to take waste water to Ōamaru’s treatment plant. This protocol is not uncommon in many councils throughout NZ as discharges direct to pond systems can become problematic with changes in BOD levels and other variances which could in turn breach resource consent."

🔻Heritage Gateway Hotel general manager Megan Talarico said the hotel put up about 60 guests in 20 rooms after they were evacuated from the Ōmārama Top 10 Holiday Park, with the Holiday Park passing on the accommodation payments they had received from the guests to compensate the hotel for the first night.
Many stayed two nights because of the road closures.
In light of the circumstances they were charged a minimum rate for the second night.
“We weren’t going to leave them stranded," Megan said.
However, despite accommodating evacuees the hotel received no direct notification from the council of the advice to boil water.
“When a 'boil water' notice comes through the hotel buys bottled water to supply guests for things like brushing teeth.”
Whether the council ought to have provided tankers of potable water while Ōmārama was under the week-long advisory as some have suggested was arguable.
“Had it happened during peak season it would have caused more issues,” Megan said.
She praised the actions of the emergency services and townspeople.
“Everyone in town came together and helped.
“The evacuees were just happy to be safe and dry, some loved their extended stay so much they have promised to return.”
THE COUNCIL RESPONSE
Marty Pacey, Water Manager
"The deployment of a water tanker was considered at the beginning of the event, however roads were closed, so the establishment of one was not possible. Once flood waters receded and access was restored, only one member of the public requested the establishment of a water tanker. Past experience with deployment of water tankers has shown very little use by the public in these situations."

🔻THE SOAK PITS/MUD TANKS

In the early hours of the flooding on Monday night soak pits through the town were quickly overwhelmed causing flooding which threatened properties.
Because contractors refused to attend that night, the volunteer Fire Brigade was called to pump out the soak pit in Totara Peak Cres as the water began to encroach on two properties in the street.
The community has long requested that the effectiveness of the soak pits be addressed, with the most recent requests forwarded to the council after heavy rain in January of this year.
The Ōmārama Gazette emailed council assets operations manager Josh Rendell on Monday to ask why this had not been addressed and to ask why, and given it was a holiday period with accommodation houses and holiday homes in use, the township was not provided with tankers of potable water for drinking and meal preparation during that time.
Mr Rendell did not to respond ahead of publication.
However, his response will be published once it is received.
THE COUNCIL RESPONSE
Joshua Rendell, Assets Operations Manager
"The intensity of the events experienced this year has been significant. The ability of some of council’s infrastructure to cope with the scale of the events has been tested and found wanting. council will be undertaking a review of some of its stormwater infrastructure, including soak pits with a view to restoring capacity to those systems."

🔻SHOWING A LITTLE KINDNESS

In all of this, the one time the strangle of red tape was loosened came because of the efforts of council solid waste manager Steve Clarke.
Ōmārama Residents’ Association chairman Lindsay Purvis’ asked the council to waive fees on the disposal of flood debris at the council-owned transfer station. Initially, the council's response was a categorical ‘no’.
But Mr Clarke went further and contacted WasteCo which manages the transfer stations to ask if it was willing to step up, which it was.
The Ōmārama Gazette also emailed Mr Clarke on Monday to get the council’s perspective on this. This is Mr Clarke's reply, received yesterday [Tuesday].
“The recent weather events in Waitaki caused flooding resulting in debris in Ōmārama. A request came through from the Ōmārama Residents' group asking to provide free waste disposal for this event. Council advised that we would be setting a precedent by offering free dumping and advised that dumping fees are claimable through insurance.
“However, we understand these are difficult times and offered to put extra bins in Ōmārama.
“Council also approached WasteCo on Ōmārama's behalf to see if they would be keen to support Ōmārama, which they were. They dropped off a bin which locals utilised for related waste.”
The Gazette will be following up on all the email questions it has sent to the council.

On the Sunday following the flood, Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean held an informal meeting with some residents.
Subsequently, Mrs Dean sent this message to all Ōmārama residents:
“ I hope that by the time this goes to print, Ōmārama residents have had a chance to take a breath and get some decent rest after the big flooding clean-up.
“Having seen the damage done to farmland, local businesses and backyards, I have every sympathy for what you’ve been through. I would also like to thank those who’ve taken time out to talk with me about what they experienced and what lies ahead.
“From the discussions I’ve had, it’s clear that some aspects of the emergency response worked well, and some aspects did not.
“Some questioned why a ‘state of emergency’ wasn’t called. There also seems to be a disconnect between how authorities view the response and how some local people feel about what took place.
“It would be nigh on impossible for all aspects of an emergency response to be handled perfectly, with decisions having to be made fast and with competing priorities.
“But I do think it’s important to take stock and review how things went from all sides so that improvements can be made.
“A review proved useful after the Ōhau fires, and I suspect it would be useful here too.
“I would hope that ECan, the Waitaki District Council, Fire and Emergency and members of the community could sit down together to ensure plans and protocols are fit for purpose and work as they should.”
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