Christine le Poidevin at one of five sinkholes that appeared in her yard at Clayfield after Airport Link tunnel boring. The tunnel in 19m below. Her house is also sinking. Photo: Des Houghton.
Christine le Poidevin at one of five sinkholes that appeared in her yard at Clayfield after Airport Link tunnel boring. The tunnel in 19m below. Her house is also sinking. Photo: Des Houghton.

Sinking shame: ‘You can see daylight through cracks’

THE State Government has conceded that the Airport Link tunnelling work has caused subsidence under million-dollar properties in the dress-circle Brisbane suburbs of Clayfield and Kalinga.

This follows expert reports that the $4.8 billion twin tunnel project also worsened flooding in the area.

The details of subsidence are contained in documents obtained by Gerrard Winter, who began a search for answers when a dozen sinkholes appeared in his yard after the tunnel boring machine passed under his home at Lodge Rd, Kalinga, nine years ago.

Christine le Poidevin says these cracks in a foundation wall under her house are the result of subsidence caused by Airport Link tunnelling.
Christine le Poidevin says these cracks in a foundation wall under her house are the result of subsidence caused by Airport Link tunnelling.

Winter has studied hundreds of reports and concludes the Airport Link tunnels were not built exactly where the original drawings said they would go.

Winter speaks with authority. He worked as an engineer and holds a Master of Science degree from London's Imperial College and a doctorate in engineering from the University of Queensland.

"Our sinkholes appear over the crown of the tunnel,'' he said.

"As night follows day, the tunnelling caused the problems."

Shamefully, the State Government, the contractor and the new tunnel owner, Transurban, attempted to bury the problem. They declined interview requests.

Ground movements have caused serious structural damage to other homes in the area.

ACCUSED: Tunnel boring machines used on the Airport Link project.
ACCUSED: Tunnel boring machines used on the Airport Link project.

The Department of Transport and Main Roads, which commissioned Airport Link, is now attempting to broker a settlement between Winter, the contractor Thiess John Holland and Airport Link owner Transurban.

Winter broke his silence after discovering what he believes to be anomalies in the design and approval process. Winter has both Airport Link tunnels running under his property.

About 200m away in Lewis St, Clayfield, Christine le Poidevin has five sinkholes, and fears her house is slowly slipping away. She has more than 20 yellow sticky Post-it notes on cracks in timber and brickwork under her house.

Upstairs there are broken tiles and uneven floors and cracks in walls wide enough to let in light.

"We have filled in many sinkholes in our backyard," le Poidevin said.

"We fill them in, but they keep reappearing."

She realised the extent of the disaster when she began a bathroom upgrade.

Christine le Poidevin with one of five sinkholes that appeared in her yard at Clayfield after the Airport Link tunnel was built.
Christine le Poidevin with one of five sinkholes that appeared in her yard at Clayfield after the Airport Link tunnel was built.

"The builder discovered a hollow under our home and refused to proceed," she said.

"We have a significant drop in the bathroom floor, the vanity has separated from the wall, and a gap in our bathroom wall where tiles have been dislodged. You can see daylight through the cracks."

Outside paving has collapsed or is seriously cracked and a fence is askew.

Le Poidevin said she began complaining years ago. But her complaints were ignored.

This week she called on Transport Minister Mark Bailey to intervene. She said the Airport Link project deed requires the contractor to remediate any damage promptly or pay compensation.

"My husband and I have been trying to have remedial work done with no joy.

"Thiess John Holland simply denied responsibility.

"We also made repeated requests for help from the Department of Transport and Main Roads."

Winter said the State Government was aware of subsidence problems even before the tunnel opened in 2012. The department repaired cave-ins on the road near his home. Le Poidevin said Brisbane City Council also knew of subsidence problems and twice had to fix water mains that cracked after subsidence.

Christine le Poidevin said cracks like these appeared after the Airport Link tunnel boring machine went under her Clayfield home.
Christine le Poidevin said cracks like these appeared after the Airport Link tunnel boring machine went under her Clayfield home.

Cameron Russell, whose Clayfield residents' action group has been campaigning for flood mitigation work, said the subsidence was devastating for families. "We have been calling for a commission of inquiry," he said. "This strengthens our case."

Russell is right. The buck-passing and attempts by a State Government to hide the problem is scandalous in my view.

After studying dozens of engineering reports on Airport Link, Winter concluded the route of the tunnel was changed during construction and did not go through solid rock as originally planned.

"They lifted the tunnel to save excavation costs, but I believe they lifted it too far," he said.

"And I can prove it."

Winter said the tunnel was 10m higher in some places, especially near the entry and exit portals.

A follow-up investigation by the main roads department led to a report in 2017 confirming the tunnels caused subsidence.

"They refused to hand it over, even though they initially agreed to do so," said Winter.

After a legal tussle the department relented and gave Winter the damning report. In March last year the department told Winter that they wanted to give him a confidential settlement.

He was surprised when transport department chiefs turned up with two Transurban executives including chief executive Sue Johnson.

Sue Johnson Group Executive, Queensland, for toll road company Transurban.
Sue Johnson Group Executive, Queensland, for toll road company Transurban.

Winter was even more surprised with what happened next.

"Some months later I got the offer from Thiess John Holland offering to buy the house; but they offered no compensation.

"There is no way I could buy a similar house in this area for what they were offering."

Thiess John Holland principal CIMIC declined to comment.

Transurban washed its hands of the problem.

"We purchased Airport Link in 2016, four years after the tunnel was constructed by Thiess John Holland," Johnson said in a statement.

"The contractor is responsible for resolving any complaints of property damage proven to be caused by construction."



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