STINKY DEAL: Residents fury over sewer system ownership
TENSIONS are spilling over at the seaside village of Seventeen Seventy where residents are tired of the unwanted “gift” of maintaining their own sewerage systems.
Residents say they are being unfairly forced to pay for maintenance and repairs of the Low Pressure Sewer System, that has been installed at 80 properties.
Bill Comiskey and Derek Hedgcock, who lead the Sewerage Action Group, are considering legal action if the Gladstone Regional Council does not review its management of the system.
The council maintains it “gifted” the system to residents and therefore does not have to pay for maintenance and replacement.
Mr Comiskey said some systems installed in 2012 were beginning to age and malfunction.
He estimated there were “spillages” from in-property systems caused by malfunctions up to six to eight times a year.
Mr Comiskey said the fact systems were not capable of handling anything other than human waste was an issue because many of the region’s properties were holiday homes.
Mr Comiskey said a faulty system needed to be removed – which required up to three people’s help – professionally cleaned and sent to Melbourne to be assessed. All at a cost to the resident.
He said this process could take two weeks, leaving the resident without a functioning toilet.
Mr Hedgcock’s home was one of the first in the area to have a system installed.
“My wife and I have done 80 years of public service between us and you get to the point where you retire and you want to have a quiet life,” Mr Hedgcock said.
“We live at Emerald but we go to Seventeen Seventy frequently and when we do go we don’t want to be flushing in fear.”
Since his home can be vacant for months at a time, Mr Hedgcock said the system had to be “flushed out” with up to 200 litres of water to prevent problems.
Mr Comiskey said there had also been a case where one resident’s system “burst into flames” due to electrical faults.
Gladstone Region Mayor Matt Burnett told The Observer that, following investigations about complaints of in-property units, it was found most problems were caused by misuse or issues with electrical supply. Issues surrounding the LPSS are subject to two Department of Environment and Science investigations.
A department spokesman told The Observer one investigation related to damage caused to the township’s main sewer line in 2018 following a severe weather event. The sewer line was repaired by the council.
The second investigation regarded the operation and maintenance of the system.
Department officers were in Seventeen Seventy earlier this week for investigations.
The former Miriam Vale Shire Council entered into a contract, which included design and construction of the LPSS.
After amalgamation Gladstone Regional Council resolved it would install the LPSS but property owners would own and maintain the systems.
In September, the action group – which includes 60 homeowners – gained two legal opinions on the ownership of the systems.
Both firms, Corrs Chambers Westgarth and Paxton-Hall, said the systems should be owned and maintained by the council.
“We want them to accept their responsibility and to accept that the law states clearly that they own them and therefore they’re responsible for them,” Mr Hedgcock said.
Corrs Chambers Westgarth said as per the Plumbing and Drainage Act there was no obligation on owners to maintain the LPSS infrastructure.
In response Cr Burnett said Paxton Hall’s recommendations were not “legal opinion” as the author was the husband of a Seventeen Seventy property owner.
He said under section 70 of Plumbing and Drainage Act 2018 the operation and maintenance of all plumbing and drainage apparatuses within private property was the responsibility of the land owner.
When the matter was raised at the April 16 council meeting, councillors voted against taking ownership of the system.
Councillors had several options including: to arrange an “annual call-out” for maintenance, to install an electrical control system with remote access to the LPSS, or to replace the existing LPSS with a new gravity sewerage network. They opted to continue with the status quo and to offer residents a replacement pump and controller.