Is it because the sewage problem was in the Bo-Kaap that it took a week short of a year to resolve, as consumer lawyer, Trudie Broekmann, suggests.
Ms Broekmann complained in July 18 last year, after she bought the property on Buitengracht Service Road, that raw sewage was running past her building (“Big stink as sewage flows outside office”, Off My Trolley, January 16/ 17).
The City had numerous excuses: the leak was on private property but they would serve notice on the owner and a clerk logged the case to an incorrect department.
Mayoral committee member for water and waste services, Xanthea Limberg, said the sewage emanates from a cracked pipe on private property in Jordaan Street. She said the City issued a notice to the property owner but didn’t know who served it.
Ms Broekmann appealed to Ward 77 councillor Brandon Golding and Ms Limberg again.
“I refer to the answers you gave Mr Joss, and despite your assurances, the stream of effluent continues to empty in front of our building, so the owner of the house whose pipes are leaking, is clearly ignoring the City’s notice. The leaking pipe should be repaired by the City and the owner be charged for the cost.” Her plea was ignored. She wrote to Mr Golding: “This is my 29th email (May 6) about the sewage spill. Despite the municipality working on the service lane behind our property, the stream of effluent continues. You said the problem was on private land and that it was not your responsibility (after doing diagnostic work using your truck and a camera). It’s clear it’s one of the houses higher up behind our property, so liquid will run down to Buitengracht Service Road. However, when the workmen came to dig for the pipes, they dug in the service lane and did not access any of the Jordaan Street properties.
“Is the City trying to dodge its responsibilities? Or were the workmen not properly supervised, and dug in the wrong place? The dirty water drains into the stormwater system, so contaminating the sea with sewage is okay. Ms Limberg, what do I need to do to resolve the problem? A media campaign? Huge posters telling the world about your unwillingness to provide us with services? Complain to the ombud and the public protector? Surely I can expect the City to provide an environment where my clients and staff don’t have to step over effluent on their way into my offices? Mr Golding, how is it that you expect to be elected if you can’t service your constituency? You’ve been remarkably silent throughout this entire process.”
The lawyer received a reply from Russel Chanquin who apologised for the delay because his email inbox was full.
The answer he gave didn’t do much to reassure Ms Broekmann.
“The area where sub-contract worked is dry, wet area is from a property (55/57 ) where there is a dog (sic) been kept in the lane and this area is been (sic) cleaned when necessary. There was dog mess in the lane when I was there; area is not easily accessible from lane as this has been blocked off and building inspector needs to advise, as this is a servitude for access to sewer pipework; water flowing into gully does not go into lane, but into gully itself; contractors left wooden peg on wall and owner of 59 wants it removed; and area where dog is slopes down and can penetrate downwards as there is no rain water channels in lane,” Mr Chanquin wrote.
I doubt if the dog is responsible for the sewage flowing past the law offices.
However, contrary to Mr Chanquin’s assertion that the lane is cleaned regularly, Ms Broekmann said, “They have no right to use the lane to keep their dog, and they never clean the mess, so we always see it and smell it from our windows and patios.”
Ms Broekmann reported an overflowing geyser to the health inspector when he was there. “I indicated that the water had a terrible stench but it could not only be coming from a geyser or rainwater, as the sewage flows every day of the year. The water comes from behind our buildings and flows along the furrow between our building and 216 Buitengracht Service Road. We have explained this often to City officials. You need to resolve the problem,” she told Mr Golding.
But it was like water off a duck’s back.
“Mr Chanquin said he had heard about our sewage issue, this after my 27th email, and he implied that it would have been resolved if he had known about it earlier. He asked if we could meet and we did on Friday May 31 when an on-site inspection was carried out,” Ms Broekmann said.
Mr Chanquin said he believed the problem was groundwater and he would have to take a sample but he didn’t have a syringe.
“The water that is running away can’t be collected in a bottle.”
Until now Mr Chanquin hasn’t taken a sample.
Ms Broekmann agreed there was a lot of groundwater and “as our buildings are set into Signal Hill, any groundwater would pool in front of them”.
“There’s a wall which presumably stops the water so our groundwater must be getting contaminated from the sewer pipe, which Mr Chanquin showed us on a municipal map. It’s an old pipe which runs the length of the old service lane behind us. The municipality said the leak was plugged when they dug up the lane a few months ago. But there must be more leaks as the smell and the stream of effluent persists,” Ms Broekmann said.
Finally, on July 12, Ms Broekman, told me: “I have not noticed any problems with a sewage smell for a long time, and it looks like the City has at last resolved the issue. But I think from my side I’m satisfied that the City have done their part – I’m so grateful we don’t have this problem any more.”