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Bromley stench: Woman wins fight with Christchurch City Council over air purifiers’ cost

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Drone footage shows a digger cleaning up the burnt-out Bromley wastewater plant in Christchurch. Video / RNZ

By Jean Edwards of RNZ

A Bromley woman has won a battle with the Christchurch City Council over the cost of two air purifiers she bought to cope with the stench from the burnt-out wastewater treatment plant nearby.

Vickie Walker said she was doing a “little happy dance on the inside” after the council backed down last night and agreed to reimburse her $695 ahead of a Disputes Tribunal hearing scheduled for Friday.

Vickie Walker says she was doing a "little happy dance on the inside" when the council backtracked. Photo / Nate McKinnon, RNZ
Vickie Walker says she was doing a “little happy dance on the inside” when the council backtracked. Photo / Nate McKinnon, RNZ

Walker owns two air purifiers bought since the rotten stench emerged earlier this year to help her manage headaches and nausea caused by months of exposure to sulphurous gases.

The units also helped Walker control the smell while sick at home with Covid-19 and in isolation from her husband, who has a lung disease.

Walker said the council was not legally obliged to foot the bill but staff had shown some heart and apologised.

“It would look pretty inhumane to say no to me with everything that’s happened. I think they’ve used a wee bit of humanity and ignored the legality, which is nice,” she said.

“I really needed the air purifiers because I had the smell of s*** in my house and I just couldn’t stand it.”

Walker said the council initially refused her claim on the grounds it would set a precedent, but had since taken her unique circumstances into account.

That included acknowledging an accumulation of odour issues from both the wastewater and nearby composting plant, her home’s proximity to them, the effect of the stench on shop fabrics stored at home and evidence of her expenditure, Walker said.

She said she was still using the air purifiers to manage the smell and hoped her win would encourage others with a strong case to make a claim.

“It’s up to people now to make a stand, if they feel strong enough, they should go ahead,” she said.

Diggers at work at the wastewater plant in Christchurch. Photo / Christchurch City Council
Diggers at work at the wastewater plant in Christchurch. Photo / Christchurch City Council

Agreement due to ‘unique circumstances’

The council’s infrastructure, planning and regulatory services general manager Jane Davis said staff had agreed to reimburse Walker because of her special situation.

“Because she lives close to the organics processing plant and in the path of the prevailing wind from the oxidation ponds, she’s experienced an accumulation of odours and this has affected her business and livelihood,” she said.

“She’s regularly been in contact with council staff about her situation and could provide evidence that she purchased air purifiers at the time that the odours from the wastewater treatment plant were at their worst earlier this year.

“The council was prepared to go before the Disputes Tribunal with a defence that proved the council had no liability in this situation. However, we’re pleased to have reached an agreement based on her unique circumstances.”

The council said it had not received any further claims from residents.

Last week the council said it had received more reports of unpleasant odours coming from the treatment plant’s oxidation ponds, as a result of milder conditions and a gentle easterly wind.

Readings from a hydrogen sulphide monitor in nearby Shortland St showed gas levels sometimes exceeded the California Office of Environmental Health Assessment guideline of 0.03 parts per million (ppm).

While very high July rainfall had flushed the ponds and westerly winds over the past few weeks had given many people a reprieve, the biological health of the ponds was still poor, the council said.

More than 2600 households within a set zone received one-off council payments of $200 to help them deal with the stench, but the offer came to an end earlier this month because demand had tapered off.

Out-of-zone applicants can still make a claim until August 31.



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