Sewer setback ‘disheartening’

Unexpected expenses . .. Tapanui Playcentre committee president Emily Donovan in front of the playcentre she and others are passionate about helping. PHOTO: JOHN COSGROVE


A sewer line has caused a bit of a stink in Tapanui.
More than 40 years ago, the Tapanui Playcentre was built by the Ministry of Education in the grounds of Tapanui School.
It replaced an earlier building used by families in the small rural West Otago community.
Unbeknown to successive management committees of the parent-run playcentre, the building was not connected to the Tapanui sewerage system’s main pipe which runs past the school’s Sussex St entrance.
Instead it was hooked up to a septic tank, which has not been emptied for a long time.
The septic tank’s overflow pipe was the only thing connected to anything —the town’s storm water drainage system which, flows out into a nearby stream.
Present Tapanui Playcentre committee president Emily Donovan said she was appalled when Clutha District Council water inspectors told her of the situation in June last year.
The committee had been informed by its contractor who was checking Tapanui’s stormwater drains with a camera and discovered the connection issue.
‘‘We informed Playcentre Aotearoa [PA] and the Ministry of Education,’’ Mrs Donovan said.
The ministry still owns the building, and PA leases it for a nominal yearly fee.
‘‘By early July 2020, the MoE made it quite clear that due to the occupancy document, they were in no way responsible or under any obligation to be involved in the costs associated with connecting the building’s sewer system to the Tapanui township sewer pipeline.
‘‘We then went about trying to find out more as we awaited the PA response to our request for help fixing this problem.
‘‘We asked parents from nearly two decades ago if they knew anything about the lack of sewer connections and they all said no.
‘‘One can only imagine how much had been going out that overflow pipe as we obviously haven’t cleaned the septic tank in over two decades.’’
Mrs Donovan said she and her brothers went to school in the area and used to play in the fields next to the outflow.
In January this year, seven months after the discovery, PA commissioned a drainlayer to install the connection, and a month later was informed it had to come up with no less than 20% of the total bill, which was more than $15,000 including GST.
‘‘[PA] ended up paying around $8000 and we had to pick the rest
— $6300,’’ Mrs Donovan said.
‘‘It was a bit of a shock as we were not expecting to have to pay that much.
‘‘Basically we had to pay the extra because according to PA we had ‘plenty’ of money in our account, but that was money that had been raised with the support of our community over the past four or five years to undertake much needed improvements to the building.’’
The playcentre had the goal of building a new deck, costing $21,000, and had planned for later improvements to its kitchen and toilet areas.
‘‘Now the coffers are almost empty so we went to the West Otago Community Board and the CDC to see if they could help us out.
‘‘We need the financial help because everyone here wants to leave the playcentre at the end of their tenure as volunteers and parent committee members, as a thriving centre for the West Otago community — one that will continue to be used for another 50-odd years,’’ Mrs Donovan said.
‘‘I feel that at the end of the day we are just a small committee, trying to do our best for what we think is an asset to our community.’’
She said the playcentre was lucky to be part of a rural community which supported its fundraising.
‘‘However, it is disheartening that we are seemingly punished for possessing the initiative and motivation to raise money and for having a supportive community . . .it was all taken away from us to fix a building problem we thought should have been covered by the PA ‘property fund’, a fund we have been paying into for what we think is nearly 60 years.’’
Now the playcentre had to go back to the community and start fundraising all over again, she said.
At last week’s West Otago Community Board meeting, members listened as Mrs Donovan outlined the quandary.
‘‘The board were very supportive, and some asked questions about a rebate kindly arranged for us by the Tapanui School principal to recover rates costs as we had been paying for a sewage connection fee for all this time and not being connected,’’ she said.
‘‘Sadly we could only get back seven years’ worth, but it was something towards the overall cost of the work.
‘‘I understand now that the board will debate the appeal at a later meeting and decide to help or not.
‘‘What we would like is assistance to recover the money set aside originally for the building work which was used to pay the drainlayer’s bill,’’ she said.
‘‘We need to improve our building so that future generations of families can have a modern facility to use.’’