Engineer reaches deal over wall's failure

MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Last updated 07:02 19/02/2013
Graeme Robinson
Graeme Robinson

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The collapse of a retaining wall designed by the engineer used by the Earthquake Commission (EQC) as its engineering authority has resulted in a $140,000 settlement.

According to court documents released by the Napier District Court, EQC engineer Graeme Robinson was sued by Havelock North couple Bernard and Frances Walsh last year over a stream retaining wall he designed. He also supervised its construction.

The case ended in a settlement late last year, with Mr Robinson's insurance company paying close to $140,000 to the Walshes. The documents show it initially offered $30,000.

Mr Robinson was involved in a raft of Christchurch cases in which he was accused of arrogance and substandard assessments. He is being investigated by the Institution of Professional Engineers.

He was withdrawn from EQC's front line and now trains engineers used by EQC. The commission previously said he was used to ensure it had "got everything exactly right from an engineering perspective". Mr Robinson has done more than 2500 assessments in Christchurch.

He was hired in 2005 to design a batter wall to protect and bolster the Mangarau stream bank below the Walshes' property. The original wall was damaged by floodwaters and EQC engaged Mr Robinson to design and oversee the appropriate remedial and preventive works.

The new wall was completed in December 2006 and started to collapse from October 2009, putting the Walshes' house at serious risk.

EQC refused to reinstate the wall designed by Mr Robinson because remedial work in 2006 did not comply with building laws.

Mr and Mrs Walsh alleged Mr Robinson:

Failed to carry out foundation checks or any formal design or engineering calculations.

Failed to ensure his design complied with the building code.

Failed to seek or obtain the necessary building and resource consents.

"This led to a retaining wall being designed and constructed that was substandard and unsafe, having a poor bearing capacity and an unacceptable factor of safety," they claimed.

They also said that before construction, Hawke's Bay Regional Council warned Mr Robinson of the failure of similarly designed constructions.

Mr and Mrs Walsh had to spend $14,000 on new engineering advice and estimated it would cost $80,000 to rebuild the wall.

In his court documents, Mr Robinson said he was engaged by EQC to remedy landslip damage and protect against imminent loss. He claimed the contractor who built the wall deviated from his design.

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He had not sought building consents because he did not regard the works as a retaining wall, he submitted.

"I advised the need for further work at the upstream end of the batter which the plaintiff addressed directly with the contractor. That work caused the failure," he claimed in court documents.

The documents reveal the Walshes responded by saying the additional work was not structural and simply tied the works back to the existing stream bank. It had no bearing on the failure.

They also responded to Mr Robinson's claim that they had got the contractor to increase the steepness of the batter, saying Mr Robinson had approved the variation.

The Walshes denied having any input into the gradient of the wall.

Mr Robinson did not respond to email messages.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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