Wollongong council rates revolt over sewage

Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery has conceded the council could have done more to limit the threat from flooding on Kembla Street in Wollongong, where properties were inundated by sewage on Monday night.

Jennifer Virtu discovered raw sewage had overflowed into the pool at her Kembla Street property. Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN

Jennifer Virtu discovered raw sewage had overflowed into the pool at her Kembla Street property. Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN

Sydney Water has dodged blame for the damage, saying the stormwater drains are not big enough.

But Wollongong City Council does not accept its storm drains are too small, and says it will always be difficult to prevent flooding in the low-lying area.

For residents, the flooding and sewage this week was identical to what happened after heavy rains in February 2012. Some have had enough and have decided to go on a rate strike.

Kembla Street resident Tony Virtu, whose pool was turned a nasty shade of brown on Monday and in 2012, said he had lived there for 40 years and had only been flooded these two recent times.

He said even in 1998, when much of Wollongong was flooded, his property was not.

Mr Virtu blames increased development and a lack of effort by the council to keep creeks clear of reeds and debris.

‘‘Why, all of a sudden, as soon as it rains, it floods?’’ he asked.

Late on Thursday, Cr Bradbery admitted the council had not done all it could to clear the creek and culverts. Cr Bradbery said he had asked for answers from the council.

‘‘I am concerned that what we can do should have been done,’’ he said.

‘‘The recent rains have caught us before we were able to achieve that.

‘‘I personally am very disappointed that that wasn’t done.’’

When storms cause the sewage to overflow, it diverts into the creek that flows through JJ Kelly Park. But when the creek is swollen from flooding, the sewage has nowhere to go and travels back to the homes on Kembla Street.

Sydney Water said it was ‘‘investigating options’’ to improve the situation, after doing work to improve the sewer in 2013.

‘‘The main cause of the wet weather wastewater overflows is the flood-prone nature of the land and the under-capacity of the stormwater system, which is managed by Wollongong City Council,’’ a spokesman said.

But, for Mr Virtu, being told by the Lord Mayor he should be aware he lived in low-lying area, was blaming the victim. He said he and several others would not pay rates until something was done.

‘‘How dare he say we know we live in a flood zone? I am appalled,’’ he said.

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