Buller Mayor's regional council criticism over flood crisis 'not personal'

3:02 pm on 26 July 2021

Buller members of the West Coast Regional Council say criticism levelled at them by Mayor Jamie Cleine over the Westport flood was unfair and unfounded.

A partly-submerged car outside flooded houses on Disraeli St, Westport.

A car on Disraeli St was partly submerged after floods hit Westport last week. Photo: Supplied/NZ Defence Force

Cleine said the regional councillors had been conspicuous by their absence during the crisis, and left him to front a public meeting where he was asked why the town did not have floodwalls to protect it.

Flood protection was the regional council's job - not the district council's, the mayor said.

The two Buller representatives on the council, John Hill and Laura Coll McLaughlin said they were disappointed with the mayor's comments, which implied they had not been on deck to help out with the flood response.

Hill did not attend the public meeting because he did not want to disrupt the connection between the Buller council and the community, he said.

"I did offer help to Civil Defence Emergency Management, but during the response stage it is often a case of 'too many cooks'... CDEM appreciated my offer of help and recorded it."

He had also helped with the recovery stage by dragging carpets and furniture from flooded homes, Hill said.

"I was fortunate to work with a group of people from the Bathurst Stockton mine and realised that they had more muscle to offer than I did."

Coll McLaughlin said her understanding was that West Coast Regional Council governance had no allocated role during a Civil Defence emergency.

"Given this, I focused my efforts elsewhere where I could... I had my five-year-old with me throughout the entire event. "

Her family had been in the thick of the flood response, Coll McLaughlin said.

"My husband was mopping up houses and removing carpet ... my mother was co-ordinating a team of surveyors recording flood levels and my dad was pretty engaged with the Civil Defence response. This left only me to mind my son."

She had still helped to survey the flood debris line, taking her boy along; tried to help relatives at their flooded home and donated to the mayoral relief fund, the councillor said.

"So, yes, in short, I do think that the [mayor's] was personal, ill-founded and unfair."

In response, Cleine said he had not intended to criticise the regional councillors' personal efforts during the crisis.

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Buller Mayor Jamie Cleine. Photo: Supplied

"What I was frustrated with was the lack of a regional presence at the public meeting where I'm having to front questions about flood protection … I think that reflects the dysfunctional state of governance at the regional council."

The regional council revealed last week that it had proposals for Westport floodwalls in its yet-to-be-released long-term plan, Cleine said.

"There has been no discussion with us [the Buller District Council] about this ... it comes out of the blue in a plan that's months overdue and I'm the last to hear about it.

"Our door has been open since 2017 to talk about this but there has been nothing … to me that is a failure of communication and reflects a governance breakdown at the regional council."

His comments were no reflection on regional council staff, Cleine said.

"The council sent a number of skilled staff to help us out with the emergency including their hydrologist and they were absolutely brilliant."

But the regional council had last week publicly brought up the fact that Westport ratepayers had rejected its proposals for floodwalls in 2017, the Buller mayor said.

"That implied that Buller got what it deserved last week, and that was unfair and disappointing."

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