Money down drain to mend hazard

MICHAEL FORBES
Last updated 05:00 18/12/2013
Taranaki St Wharf diving platform
KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ
MURKY DEPTHS: Meghan Coomber leaps off the Taranaki St Wharf diving platform despite health warnings. It has been closed since February and is not expected to reopen until next February.

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The capital's waterfront diving platform remains officially closed as a health hazard - not that you'd know it from the number of people still leaping off it.

The platform, on Taranaki St Wharf, will not reopen until February, by which time about $200,000 of ratepayers' money will have been spent on it, and hundreds of people will no doubt have carried on using it.

It has been closed since the sevens in February after tests on the water below showed levels of enterococci high enough to suggest there was a risk of users catching diarrhoea or gastroenteritis, according to Wellington Waterfront chief executive Ian Pike.

The council-controlled organisation has set aside $150,000 to install protective baffles, or screens, in the water to keep harmful bacteria out.

When added to the money it expects to spend on finding and fixing the contamination source, the total bill to ratepayers is expected to be about $200,000.

Pike said that was a "prudent" sum of money to spend on a popular attraction, even though he accepted it generated no revenue.

"The city we live in has great diversity when it comes to activities and, if you were going to run with that argument, then you could say the same thing about the [Guy Fawkes] fireworks and a whole host of different things."

Wellington City Council chief asset officer Anthony Wilson said the source of the contamination was likely to be a broken stormwater pipe.

It was taking so long to find because it could be anywhere within a 300-hectare area of stormwater drains that led to the harbour.

"It is not going to be a quick find-and-fix. There are more than 50 kilometres of public drains in the catchment and an unknown length of private drains."

Pike said bacteria was only an issue underneath the diving platform. Other areas of the harbour were fine for swimming yesterday, according to regional council data.

The Regional Public Health office refused to comment on the health risk to divers when asked by The Dominion Post yesterday. All questions were referred to the council and Wellington Waterfront.

Pike said the public health office had not passed on any concerns to him.

Fortnightly tests throughout winter had shown enterococci levels were consistently above Wellington Waterfront's alert level of 140 bacteria per 100 millilitres of water. Anything over 280 is considered an unacceptable risk to health.

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Occasionally, enterococci levels were "up in the thousands", Mr Pike said.

He added that he wanted the platform retained in its current spot but if the protective screens did not work, then moving it would be considered.

GIRLS JUDGE DIP WORTH THE RISK

Health warnings next to the Wellington Waterfront diving platform don't have much effect on Katie Hughes and Meghan Coomber any more.

They heeded the city council's message when the signs were first put up in February.

But after almost a year of watching everyone else ignore the warnings, the Wellington teenagers decided a quick dip on a hot day was a risk worth taking.

Hughes, 16, and Coomber, 17, were among half a dozen people who had jumped the barrier to dive off the platform when The Dominion Post arrived yesterday.

The signs informing people of potentially dangerous bacteria in the water had been there so long that they struggled to take them seriously, Hughes said.

"There's always people jumping in. The water doesn't look that bad, certainly compared to other places I've been, like Toronto Harbour."

The pair had dived off the platform about six times since the signs appeared and had never been sick. Nor had any of their friends.

They planned to keep using it during the holidays, despite the ban.

Hughes said the platform was worth spending money on. "I don't know that it's fully necessary to enclose it with barriers.

"They could just put a shower here for people to use instead."

- The Dominion Post

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