As our series on Wollongong’s flood problems continues, BEN LANGFORD reports on a Bulli street where residents are tired of promises to fix infrastructure.
Peter Hamilton was surprised to see Member for Heathcote Lee Evans arrive in his street one day, in the company of representatives from the transport department and Wollongong City Council.
They were there to talk about creeks and culverts, about flooding and rain.
At the time, plans were under way to upgrade the culvert that takes Tramway Creek under the railway line, behind the row of houses on Allenby Parade, Bulli.
Mr Hamilton and Les Herbert, neighbours on Allenby Parade, thought the political attention meant work would be done to enlarge the culvert.
Earlier they had a visit from Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery. They had invited him there soon after he took office, to see the need for work on the culvert.
These visits were a big deal for them, because since flood modelling was carried out in the wake of the 1998 floods, their homes had been listed as being at high risk of flooding.
Under current modelling, Mr Hamilton's house is predicted to be inundated with 2.54 metres of water.
Mr Herbert, meanwhile, has been told he will see 2.69 metres of water.
These figures came from Wollongong City Council information on what could happen if the railway culvert was not upgraded.
But the projections don't match the neighbours' experience.
Mr Hamilton, 37, a production supervisor at the Port Kembla steelworks, said the only time he had seen any water cross his property was when heavy rains brought run-off from the street across the large driveway and front yard, puddling in his garage.
Even in the major floods of 1998, water didn't breach the creek. This conclusion is backed by council's new Hewitts Creek flood plan, which also concluded that the only impact from water in 1998 was run-off from the road, not the rising creek.
But under the modelling, the culvert is assumed to be substantially blocked, theoretically turning the train line into a dam wall.
Mr Herbert, 71, a retired pool manager, has lived there since 2000. His insurance bill has jumped because of the flood risk he has never seen.
"After they made the flood study after 1998, and came up with some ridiculous conclusions, that's when it hit the fan and we were asked to pay $9000 insurance."
Residents are stuck between a rock and a hard place - still waiting for work to improve drainage to the sea.
"There is a risk if they don't fix the culvert - so fix the culvert, fix the risk," Mr Herbert said.
"The design's all there. They've spent money on the design - it's just a matter of doing it."
A high-flow culvert or bridge under the rail line was identified as a high priority in the 2002 Hewitts Creek flood plan, and was priced at $640,000.
Since late 2011 residents have heard promises about the Tramway Creek Culvert Upgrade Proposal.
In 2012 they attended a meeting at the council depot next door for consultation about the preferred design.
Residents called for the largest culvert design, but a smaller option was chosen.
Cr Bradbery wrote to Mr Herbert in May 2012 assuring him "detailed design of the upgraded culvert is progressing".
A 2013 letter from the council to the Planning Department says "council is in the process of implementing these works".
The council's website now says the design is complete. But no work has been done.
As with many of Wollongong's stormwater management problems, Tramway Creek crosses private land, council land and state government-owned assets. Any work on the railway culvert needs co-operation between the levels of government.
Mr Herbert said Mr Evans' visit made him optimistic.
"He inferred that the council was right behind fixing the pipe problem, the state government was right behind it, and it was going ahead," Mr Herbert said.
Mr Hamilton has been back in touch with Mr Evans, wondering why there had been no work to fix the culvert.
"He basically apologised, saying sorry it was so slow, but it's basically a local issue," he said.
Mr Evans told the Mercury it was up to the council to set a plan, and a date, for action on the culvert.
"If they were serious, we'd be sitting down and talking about how we're going to move forward on this," he said.
"We never got to this point - it just goes into another report."
The revised Hewitts Creek flood study contains comparisons of the observed flood levels in 1998, against the new modelled levels.
No parts of Allenby Parade are mapped as "observed flood area", and the only flooding observations listed are from one resident whose home took surface water run-off from the street - not from the creek behind his house.