Help for some, stress for others

NO END: Caroline Wheeler is still locked in a dispute with authorities over the December 2011 damage to her Princes Dr property.
NO END: Caroline Wheeler is still locked in a dispute with authorities over the December 2011 damage to her Princes Dr property.

The roads are open, the streams have been cleared and the ugly slip scars are greening on the hills, but the 2011 flood is still affecting communities in several ways.

It will be at least 2015 before all the road repairs are done, some people are still battling for compensation, and ratepayers are still paying for work that was never budgeted for.

Nelson City Council communications manager Angela Ricker says the council has finished repairs at 39 slip sites, excluding the Cable Bay area, which was at the centre of the devastation.

There are 28 council sites at Cable Bay. Work has been under way for "a couple of months", Ms Ricker says, and is expected to end in March 2015.

The 13 other sites to be worked on include the steep Days Track pathway on the Tahunanui Hills, an entire section of which was taken out.

"It is anticipated that they will be completed by July 2014," Ms Ricker says.

She says the council has also done gravel extraction and bank repairs in almost every major stream in Nelson, with nearly 20,000 cubic metres of silt and gravel being removed to maximise their capacity.

"To date, the repairs have cost approximately $5.25 million, and it's estimated another $3.6m will be spent to complete the work. Of the total costs, $3.8 million is dedicated to Cable Bay."

Nelson still has 25 section 124 notices in place, restricting or barring access to properties, and three houses have been demolished.

A second storm that hit Stoke in April this year has caused the council to budget $790,000 for repairs, mainly to Orphanage Stream and Saxton Field, and these are due to be completed by July next year. The extensive repairs to Saxton Stadium have been finished, and were covered by insurance.

The Tasman District Council has spent about $10m on a range of flood repairs, with most of this recoverable from the Ministry of Civil Defence and insurance.

Communications manager Chris Choat says the exact figure is blurred now, because a large part of the work has become operational funding.

"That has had a long-lasting effect on our operational spending, because we've had to reprioritise."

The 2011 flood, and subsequent events like this year's April flooding and another damaging storm in June, have triggered a review of the council's disaster fund criteria to determine what is emergency funding and what is operational.

The TDC says the 2011 flood damage in Golden Bay, and its effects, are very noticeable in three places along Abel Tasman Dr - just below the Abel Tasman Memorial, the causeway between Ligar Bay and Tata Beach, and Wainui Hill.

The NZ Transport Agency has been working on what it calls "emergency works reinstatement" on a badly damaged section of State Highway 60 at Birds Hill, near Takaka, while the reconstruction of the unsealed road from Wainui Bay to the popular Totaranui campground was finished a year ago, also with NZTA footing the bill.

The TDC reports that the $2.5m Wainui Hill slip remediation project is finished, apart from minor drainage, sealing and cleanup work, but two sections on the Wainui side of the hill will remain one-way until active slips have settled, which might take years.

The council says it intends to seek resource consent for the causeway work, and temporary repairs will be done before Christmas to cope with summer holiday traffic.

The affected section of the Ligar Bay hill will also stay one-way for some time until a long-term, cost-effective solution to the slip there is found.

The council has also done most of the work needed to restore tracks and parks, with considerable help from Keep Richmond Beautiful in the Richmond area, as well as help from other groups elsewhere.

TDC regulatory manager Adrian Humphries, who has doubled as recovery manager, says the eight remaining section 124 notices in Golden Bay are mainly "sheds and outhouses". The council isn't pushing the owners hard to demolish them or make them safe, and is not being "overly prosecutional".

"We're encouraging people to work in groups to get stuff done."

He says the council broke the back of the recovery work "quite a while ago".

"There's always going to be some people who have got individual concerns and worries, and that's going to drag on forever."

One such person is Nelson city resident Caroline Wheeler - and for her, the problems the flood caused are some way from a solution she can accept.

Dr Wheeler, a GP with a separate health business, says she hasn't been able to practise medicine for two years because her situation has become so all-consuming.

A large part of her Princes Dr frontage slid away, and while her house was untouched - and therefore not initially deemed to qualify for an insurance payout - it was given a section 124 notice because of the danger that it might plummet down the cliff.

She can't live in it, and her compensation so far covers only the one-sixth of the property that slipped away. EQC says this is all it can legally pay up on.

Dr Wheeler's story has been told in print and on television, but she still feels she isn't getting anywhere.

She says she won't give up, and will do "whatever it takes to be heard".

The last offer she got from her insurance company was "so unreasonable that there was no way anybody in their right mind would accept it".

She's waiting for another offer, but says the story is bigger than her situation, or that of former Cliffs couple Alan and Mary Pullar, who were similarly affected but have received a payout for their house.

"The public in New Zealand just don't have a voice, and the legislation just doesn't support us. How can the insurance companies and EQC do what they're doing to us?"

She says her insurance company has now accepted in principle that she has a claim, but has added "all these other clauses" that mean she can't accept what is being offered.

Meanwhile, EQC has been "appalling".

"I kept on thinking that the top of the mountain was just a small way ahead, but this has been going on for two years."

Her view today is that insurance is "almost like a lottery", with homeowners paying high annual premiums in good faith only to find that when disaster strikes, the insurers run.

During the past fortnight, she has decided to fully focus on finding out how to "get across the line", including phoning around the world to learn more, and says she will even stand on the steps of Parliament with a placard if she has to.

With policy changes bringing higher premiums, the insurance issue is growing, Dr Wheeler says.

The only people still arguing with their insurance companies and EQC are the ones who were worst affected by the flood damage. They should have been dealt with first, she says.

"It's an absolute fiasco."

In a brief response to questions from the Nelson Mail, EQC said its position on Dr Wheeler's situation - that she had received her full entitlement under the Earthquake Commission Act - was unchanged. "That is the most we can lawfully provide her."