The worse case scenario regarding who is responsible for the management and maintenance of pipes beneath a city dwelling in the ‘Irish Water era’ appears to have played out in Waterford’s Hillview estate over the past fortnight. And it’s literally left a foul odour in the nostrils of local residents.
Indeed, the sorry situation left the occupant of the house, mother of four Aoife Caulfield, with no option but to serve meals to her children in their rooms, and even in her car outside their home, due to the noxious odour caused from raw sewage from a blocked pipe beneath her now eviscerated garden.
This problem, according to City & County Councillors who have assisted Ms Caulfield in recent weeks, wasn’t best served by a series of what they labelled “buck-passing” interchanges between Irish Water and Waterford City & County Council over who ought to address the sewage/sewerage problem in the area.
Yet this issue was one known long before Ms Caulfield’s kitchen extension literally fell away (due to subsidence), leaving her with a two and a half-foot trench of foul, contaminated water in her eviscerated garden for nine, stench-filled days.
“It’s an absolute nightmare,” Aoife told The Munster Express. “I can’t get my kitchen rebuilt because of this blockage; I don’t have a kitchen as such right now, I can’t use my washing machine given the smell and we’ve even been sat out in the car having meals. It’s a terrible situation.”
Ms Caulfield, who praised the interventions of both Councillors Jim Griffin (SF) and Joe Kelly on her behalf (“I’d be lost without the two of them”), received a brief respite to her problem on Friday last.
“I was a bit surprised when Council workers rang at about a quarter to six on Friday evening to say they were coming up to clear the blockage, because two or three hours before that they said they wouldn’t be dealing with this” said the Hawthorn Drive resident.
“But when one of the staff rang me to say they were coming up, I was a bit surprised – but I wasn’t going to refuse it because if it meant the smell wouldn’t be so bad for a few days, then I was obviously going to go with that.
“So they came up, cleared the drains and put a camera down the pipe to find the cause of the problem, which they did – there’s a collapsed pipe. Now they never said they were going to do anything about it, but at least they found it.”
In a statement, Waterford City Council Director of Services Fergus Galvin stressed: “The Council, acting in this capacity, cleared the drains on Friday afternoon in order to confirm the precise cause and location of the problem.
“While the immediate problem has been resolved this is a very short term measure as the root cause of the problem remains – it would appear that there is a damaged/collapsed sewer pipe which is located under an extension constructed in the rear garden of another house further down the road.”
‘Still a matter for Irish Water’
Mr Galvin added: “This is still a matter for Irish Water and the Council is acting as a contractor to and under the instruction of Irish Water in this case…The rectification of this problem will be a matter between Irish Water and the householder and I understand that IW has served a notice on the householder.”
Cllr Griffin, who raised the matter at last Thursday’s plenary meeting of Waterford City & County Council, stated: “This particular problem in Hillview is now new.
“The Council has been up there on numerous occasions (for over 20 years, according to Ms Caulfield), power blasting the pipes along Hawthorn Drive. Power blasting clears the drains for a considerable number of months but, in time, the pipes up there would inevitably get blocked again…but why is there confusion about who does what now?”
On Friday, the situation evolved further when a neighbour of Ms Caulfield’s received a hand-delivered letter from Irish Water, stating that the sewerage problem lay in pipes beneath her premises.
Aoife Caulfield met her neighbour after she’d received the letter, continuing: “The letter told her that she’d have to address the issue within three working days or that Irish Water would address it for her and bill her for this work. She’s a widow, living on her own and she was very upset by this; she was physically sick on the side of the road. No-one from Irish Water has ever even called to her house and now she’s being told that this is her fault, and I feel that’s very unfair.”
Irish Water reaction
In a brief statement issued on Monday afternoon, Irish Water told this newspaper:
“We are investigating the situation on Hawthorn Drive and sought to make contact with the home owner of one of the properties in the area last Friday.
“Whilst the source of the problem impacting on the houses on Hawthorn Drive is currently unconfirmed it is hoped that this contact might assist in the identification and subsequent remediation of the issue. Irish Water appreciates the urgency of the situation and will seek to address the matter as quickly as possible.”
Ms Caulfield assumed ownership of the house following the death of her father, soon after which she discovered several cracks and underlying issues in the kitchen area.
“The whole kitchen was literally drifting away from the mainstay of the house,” said Cllr Griffin. On further investigation, it was determined that on health and safety grounds, the entire extension would have to be removed.
But once builders moved in (within the past fortnight), only then was it established that they couldn’t install concrete footings due to the instability of the ground. “And the deeper they went, the more sewerage came up,” Jim Griffin added.
Once the builders went down only six inches, it was discovered that the ground was “oozing with sewage…the powerblasting would work, of course, but that remains a temporary solution”.
Residents claim that contracts in the possession of residents who lived here since the estate opened state that the Council was to be responsible for drainage and sewerage works.
Said Aoife Caulfield: “The Council never brought Irish Water up there to say to residents, ‘look, this is the way it’s going to be from now on, there’s a new contract that needs signing’ and because that hasn’t happened, then one can see why residents would be entitled to believe that the older contract remains legally binding.”
On the issue of such contracts, Fergus Galvin said: “I haven’t had sight of the contracts which I’ve been told exist but assume that they are the standard clauses in house purchase contracts which would state that the estate has been taken in the charge of the Council and responsibility for the public services including water and sewerage vested in them, etc.”