A local council is blaming “human error” for its failure to fix a blockage which resulted in raw sewage flowing over a Whangārei service lane and car park for more than two days.
A Whangārei plumber was so disappointed with Whangārei District Council’s “diabolical” lack of response, that he took it upon himself to clear the blockage to stop the sewage spill which was endangering the public.
The incident started on Wednesday, August 9, at Reyburn St – a site about 400m from the Whangārei Town Basin.
Plumber Barry Judkins from Priority 1 Water Services said he was called by a private customer, who thought the sewage blockage was on their property.
But his investigation found the block was in the council drain, resulting in raw sewage flowing over public areas, and he quickly called Whangarei District Council, so it could notify its contractor to fix the problem.
“The health issues associated with uncontained raw sewerage overflows are well-documented and should be a priority,” he said.
But when the blockage was still not fixed after 48 hours, Judkins’ company fixed the blockage and advised the property owners to seek compensation from the council for the costs.
Council waste and drainage manager Simon Charles said sewage blockages such as this are normally responded to within an hour in Whangārei township and 90 minutes at the further ends of the district.
However, a “simple human error” prevented the message being passed onto the right person and the council regretted it, he said.
Charles said the council encourages people to call back within two hours if a blockage has not been attended to.
About 40 to 50 blockages of this kind occur each year and Charles said the council plans to provide more information to the public about reporting and follow-up, he said.
“In this case it was a one-off human error. This is a very rare occurrence – and unlikely to happen again.”
But Judkins argued the incident was not an isolated error, saying it was the third time in the last 15 months he has called the council about a blockage, only to have a delayed response.
The first instance, in May 2022, a blocked drain was causing an overflow by IHC residential flats in Cooke St and in June this year a lunch bar and mechanical workshop were impacted by a blocked council drain on Cameron St.
Both times, there was no action within 48 hours, he said.
Judkins outlined all of these concerns to the council in writing, telling it to urgently review the “substandard” performance and response time, but he heard nothing back.
But the council said it is satisfied that the work is being done to a high standard, in a timely fashion, despite the “one hiccup” at Reyburn St.
Charles said with the Cooke St incident, council teams attended within the hour but left after finding no issues with the council’s sewer.
When called again, the contractor returned and discovered wet wipes had caused a block in the privately owned pipes.
While the property owner would normally need to ring a private contractor to do this job, the council contractor decided to do it while they were there and charged the property owner.
“I commend our team for their thoughtfulness on this occasion,” he said.
With the Cameron St incident in June, council teams attended within the hour but had to delay work until traffic had eased, Charles said.
The only changes the council plans to make is in the information it gives to the public, he said.
”We will be providing more information to the public about the process of reporting problems to us, what to expect in terms of a response, and encouraging them to call back sooner rather than later if a problem is not attended to.”