Wellington council apologises to couple who 'walk the plank' to escape sewage
When you're in your 80s it's not easy to walk a plank over a lake of sewage just to escape the house – but that's what the O'Neills face every time there's heavy rain.
It's been nearly two decades of toilet paper in the garden and the smell of "poo" for the Strathmore couple whenever a storm hits the capital.
On Tuesday, after 17 years of complaints, Patricia O'Neill, 86, and husband Pat, 88, finally an apology when Wellington City Council acknowledged it was unacceptable.
Despite the "filthy mess" that surrounded their home after a downpour, they had stayed in the state home because they couldn't afford market rent, Patricia O'Neill said.
"I don't think we would have had anywhere else to go."
Heavy downpours would flood the garden, leaving the couple stranded until the water receded. That often meant cancelling plans, or resorting to walking across a plank to get out of the house.
They once grew a garden in the backyard but now she worries about anybody touching the grass.
"Nobody goes out there anymore, we have grandchildren who can't play outside."
After a concerned nurse sent an email to the council, Housing NZ and media, the couple were offered a new state home, the grandmother of six said.
"I'm not moving out so they can put some poor other person in here."
On Tuesday, council spokesman Richard MacLean apologised that it had taken so long to fix the problem.
"In conjunction with Wellington Water we're trying to review how and why their complaints have not been properly dealt with."
Wellington Water was committed to fixing the issue and expected to have options for a long term solution next month, he said.
He said the network problem was inflow into a collector main that serves suburbs east of the airport, and carries the wastewater to Moa Point Treatment plant.
The inflow caused the manhole to surcharge during heavy rainfall.
The council had visited the O'Neills and would look at a temporary solution until a permanent fix was made.
It would disinfect the property and contractors would visit before, during and after heavy rainfall, he said.
They had "built up" the concrete around the manhole last year and cleared drains to improve flow away from the property.
"On Friday, we bolted down the manhole at, and put in a hinged manhole lid downstream.
"These measures should reduce the likelihood and volume of stormwater surcharge in future."
Housing NZ acting regional manager Karen Hitchcock the agency had visited the O'Neills last week and had offered to find them an interim home.
"It is unacceptable that the O'Neills have had to live with this ongoing issue and we have apologised to them for the inconvenience this has caused."