Thursday 17 January 2008

A disaster waiting to happen

Val Schier reports after a visit to Gordonvale to survey the damage following the recent flooding.

She finds that stormwater drains coupled with increase in housing has added to the problem...
  • Well, the monsoon trough has moved down, the wet season is here, we've had some moderate rain and what do we have? Floods, all over town.

    I went down to Gordonvale last weekend to listen to and commiserate with the people in Riverstone Road who had a torrent of water go throughout their houses; homes which had never flooded previously.

    Some of the people in Gordonvale have long memories. They remember the town flooding after Pyramid Estate was first built resulting in the building of the Hemmings Creek drain.

    They recall how subsequent developers have been allowed to use the drain for excess runoff for which it was not designed. They know that CEC are continuing development from the Pyramid Estate through Meringa and on the old bullock paddock with drainage going into creeks which flow directly into the heart of the 'old' town.

    They tell of the saga of the Johnson Park drain back in Mulgrave Shire times when Campbell street flooded when the high tide backed up Mackeys creek. They tell of how the previous and current councils have ignored the drainage problems of new development in favour of developers.

    They reckon many of these drainage plans are drawn up by engineers in southern centres who have no idea of the wet season in this area and the amount of run-off or how the creeks are affected by tidal rise. They think that developers consider the costs to do the job properly are too high even though they know the consequences. They'll be long gone when the problems occur.

    The residents are worried and they have a right to be. We haven't had a decent wet season in years, the developers have continued building at a rapid rate and we are a disaster waiting to happen.

    We have got to pause for a bit, reflect upon the increased turbulent weather that we know will be a consequence of global warning (on which Kevin Byrne, alone, thinks the jury is still out).

    We have to plan better, take account of local knowledge, stop trying to make creeks flow in the opposite direction and respect that we live in the tropics and not a suburb in Sydney or Melbourne.

    At council meetings other councillors often roll their eyes when Cr Jeff Pezzuti wants to ask questions about drainage again and again. Jeff asks those questions because he knows the land and he knows the power of the water.

    The developers have not been made accountable in the way they should have been and the ratepayers of Cairns are going to be paying for their mistakes for years to come.


Anonymous said...

Well said Val. I am a north Queenslander and proud of it. while I have only lived here in Cairns for about 6 years, most of my life being in Mackay, I have notice that like Mackay, developers have consistantly built over natural water courses, or catchments. Many years ago, in Mackay, the then mayor, Alderman Abbott, refused developers who wanted to build on the natural flood plane. Subsequently, he was voted out and replaced. Now they have built in the original bed of the Pioneer River, which changed it path during a cyclone and mini tidal wave back inthe early 1900's. the last 2 years, these developements have been flooded out at the home owners expence. Cairns is doing the same thing, and in time to come, will suffer the same fate. Some areas already are. One thing that I would like to see, which wont ever happen with the current council, is, in the approval process of new developements, the council calls on the old timers, and ask the most important question there is, remembering back to the old time wet season we used to get. That question is "How deep does the water get when it floods?"
I know it is a simplistic idea, but, imagine the difference it will make during a wet season where we get 12inches of rain over night for a week.

Anonymous said...

Back in the 1974/75 floods, I recall seeing people rowing boats up English Street in Manunda. Around town, there were huge lakes of water. Cairns itself is built on a series of sandy ridges and swamps. We locals always bought those homes which were built on a sandy ridge.

Anonymous said...

Ummm...Maybe Council should include free swimming lessons with every welcome to Cairns package.

Anonymous said...

Paul from Edmonton, I think that your suggestion of calling on old timers to provide advice about flood levels is a good, common sense one. Unfortunately, common sense is not all that common.
We need to be listening to people like Cr Jeff Pezzuti and the older farmers who know the land well and have watched in dismay as their advice has been ignored and residents left with having to deal with the floods when the developers have long gone.

Anonymous said...

Goodness me Val ...
Two weeks ago Cairns experienced a 20 year rainfall event as ex Tropical Cyclone Helen passed over.
Yes, there was some flooding, just as there has been flooding all over most of Queensland.
Developers don't design the stormwater handling systems for new subdivisions, Consulting Engineers do.
GHD, Sinclair Knight, Maunsell, McPherson Chapman, Projex North etc.
These are all professional engineers.
Are you saying they don't know what they're doing?
Oh, I guess it's all Kev's fault again!!!

Anonymous said...

The thing that factman has to realise is that Kev is the Mayor of Cairns .. He has taken on the resposibility of being the spokesperson for the people of Cairns.
I agree with you, Engineers design the storm water. You say that we have just recieved a once in 20year water fall. Time flys when your having fun. I didnt think it was 20years since cyclone Larry.
Factman, I have a question for you. How long have you lived in Cairns or North Queensland?. I have lived in North Queensland all my life. I do remember when we used to get real wet seasons. So would a lot of people who have lived here all their lives and are over 20 years of age. The real wet seasons we got, we received 12inches of rain over night .. every night for a week. and this went on for 3 or 4 months every year. Council, when looking over development plans and specifications,(because the dont approve anything because the Labor State Government does it all) should push for proper storm water to be put in place. They can put an objection in against the application and state the reasons for the objection. If enough objections are put in, the engineers would get the hint. So would the State Lobor Goverment.

Just as a side note, if things happen the way the factman says, like,"Council has nothing to do with approval process, Council does not do any building inspections, everything is the State Governments fault, then why do we need factman, KB, and the rest of the local council??? .. they obviously do nothing.

Anonymous said...

Drainage is now a major issue because of global warming. We are back to having high and sustained rainfall and local councils will have to factor that in their planning. AND NO, you can't leave that to the State Governments. This is something which is the local councils RESPONSIBILITY.
We need to be looking at drainage, land slip, high tides, even explosions of insect populations due to the weather changes.
Yes, yes, yes. Weather changes can result in insect plagues particularly here in the tropics. How would the "developer" and "tourist entrepreneur" cope with another sizeable army worm plague hey???
If we had a council competent enough to be looking at the future needs of this community, they would be hosting a community forum RIGHT NOW on the coming impact of climate change on the region.

Anonymous said...

But anonymous, Kevin Byrne has doesn't believe in Global Warming. As he said in a letter to the editor last year, he thinks that even if it is real, Cairns residents have such little impact on it globally that we shouldn't give a stuff. What a man eh? What a great person to be our leader. Keep living in the past there Kev, because thats where ideas like yours, and where your political career will be in 2 months.

Environmental attributes and climate change are real issues that are more and more relavant each year. Politicians who haven't been believers are rapidly being voted out. Labor are widely regarded as being more 'green' than the Coalition, and thats one of the main reasons why they are in power across the country, because environmental concerns are high priority these days. Meanwhile, in the far north, one of the most key environmental areas in the country, we have KB and his team, still living in their 'development at all cost' mentality. I shudder to think what will become of Cape Trib and the Daintree under 4 more years of Byrne. We simply cannot let that happen. We have a chance to make things right very soon. Don't waste this chance to get rid of Byrne.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous suggested "a community forum... on the coming impact of climate change on the region is an excellent idea". It is a very good idea.

The new regional planning process (FNQ 2025), as far as I can tell, is not likely to do the job that's needed on climate change. Before Christmas I was told it's unlikely even to set a greenhouse gas net emissions target for the region in the forthcoming draft regional plan. The FNQ 2025 planners, I guess, have looked at the official IPCC report - but I bet they ignore the growing chorus of concern that there's a significant probability of a sea level rise of several metres in the coming century.

However, the new local authorities for (a) Cairns and the coast and (b) the Tablelands, should, soon after the election, convene a forum of the type suggested.

We need the best informed people in this region to come together, consider a range of foreseeable scenarios and do some real planning for a very uncertain future.