History of Alexandra District
Flood Action Society Inc.

04/08/2001

Founding member John Nelson has now written the history of the Alexandra Flood Group, which became the Alexandra District Flood Action Society in 2001. For a long time he was their Secretary but now is the Society’s vice-president.

History Of The Alexandra Flood Group

The Flood Group evolved as a result of the flooding at Alexandra 13th December 1995, which inundated property to a level higher than was experienced in the "Big Flood" of 1878 despite a much smaller volume of water. There have been many floods over the years since the commissioning of the Roxburgh Dam in 1956, but as a result of the increasing sediment accumulation on the lakebed, the increased flood height level at Alexandra in the early 1990’s was now more then three metres higher compared to that when their was no dam.

Despite the floods getting worse, the authorities did not and would not act to provide compensation or monetary relief to the affected residents. The Otago Regional Council (ORC), the governing body who have the responsibility by statute for rivers and water ways, were extremely quiet and indeed were seen by many as a pawn for the Dam owners.

The Central Otago District Council (CODC) were concerned about the plight of the Council owned assets, but unknown to many, had signed an agreement for some compensation with Electric Corporation New Zealand Ltd (ECNZ) after the January 1994 flood which was for a full and final settlement, including any future flooding which might occur.

The CODC’s position towards the privately owned property was to sit on the fence and do nothing. The Council considered that it was none of their business to get involved with private property owners floods claims.

This statement more than any other was seen as the last straw by frustrated Alexandra residents, many of whom were elderly, could not afford to take legal action and were frightened by the uncertain future ahead.

A public meeting was held at the Alexandra Holiday Camp, which was attended by the Member of Parliament for Otago, Gavin Herlihy, Mayor Bill McIntosh, councilors, businessmen and residents. Local optometrist Laurence O’Connell was an instigator in calling the meeting and was elected along with others to form a committee to lobby government for compensation for the flood victims. The committee did not achieve anything and soon died a natural death.

Laurence O’Connell however was speaking out publicly to anyone who was receptive to the plight in which the residents of Alexandra found themselves. Residents who were affected by flooding soon realised that neither the ORC or the CODC were about to come to their aid, and on top of this the Government was in the process of transferring some of their ECNZ assets, including Roxburgh and Clyde hydro stations to a State Owned Enterprise (SOE), to be called Contact Energy.

It was the feeling of the affected residents that it would be better to deal with the Government than a SOE which would have a limited ability to finance flood claims. With this in mind the affected property owners joined with Laurence O’Connell and formed a group called the Alexandra Flood Action Group.

This flood victims group was the first resistance that any of the governing authorities, Crown, ORC, CODC and Contact Energy had encountered.

Contact Energy, employed a Wellington based company of Lawyers and with communications manager Bruce Thompson, set about what was seen by many, "picking" off the flood victims one at a time by making monetary payments to compensate for losses caused by the flooding. Along with these compensation payments there was a confidentiality contract to be signed, effectively gagging any one who signed a contract from speaking out publicly against Contact Energy who despite proof to the contrary, denied any prior knowledge of the problem or responsibility for the flooding in Alexandra.

As more and more claims were settled, the Flood Action Group became smaller and smaller. At one stage the numbers in the group had been in excess of 50, but the final nail in the coffin for the Flood Action Group was when at a meeting held at the O’Connell’s house, Laurence told the remaining members of the committee, that he had signed an agreement with Contact Energy and under the circumstances he could no longer be part of the group.

The Alexandra Flood Action Group went into recess for a period and during that time a local businessman granted some funds to John Nelson who had not settled with Contact Energy, to engage professional help to file research documents comprising hundreds of letters, documents, reports etc. that were stored in cardboard boxes. Laurence agreed with this move as Contact Energy’s renewal of their Water Right consent hearings were on his agenda, although a long way into the future. At the same time, Alexandra Holiday Camp owners Brian and Joy Watson were commencing a harrowing legal action against the Crown and Contact Energy.

Ironically it was the sale of Otago Central Electric Power Trust assets that was the catalyst for a new group to be formed. A number of people in Alexandra were concerned about the sale of Otago Central Electric and they decided to have a meeting to see if any thing could be done to stop the sale. As history will show the Otago Central Electric sale negotiations were too far down the track to prevent a sale.

It was decided by those present to meet again and discuss the Alexandra Flooding issue. The next meeting was held at Oliver’s restaurant in Clyde 7-30pm 19th January 1999.

The new group was also called the Alexandra Flood Action Group. Those present were Ian Gray, Mike Botting, Kate Love, John Lovering, Alistair Watson, Jolyon Manning, Enny Manning, Russell Ibbotson, Bob Kilgour, John Nelson and Russell Green.

Bob Kilgour was elected President and John Nelson as Secretary. The only member from the original Alexandra Flood Victims group was John Nelson, with Laurence O’Connell joining the new group at a later date.

The new group set out a list of objectives. They were

  1. To seek maintenance of the Clutha River.
  2. Payment for Alexandra’s swimming pool.
  3. Reassessment and payment of fair compensation.
  4. Indemnity against future flooding.

On the 23rd January 2000 at a meeting held in Bob Kilgour’s office a constitution was formulated and passed.

  1. That Contact Energy, ECNZ, or the Crown, indemnify Alexandra and its residents from any future flooding.
  2. Remove silt from Lake Roxburgh and maintain the riverbed to pre 1956 river profile.
  3. To revisit previous claims and settle in a fair manner.
  4. Evaluate and act on other restrictions down stream of Alexandra, which are compounding the flooding at Alexandra.

February 2001 saw yet another change to the structure of the Flood Group. The committee sought some protection against having costs awarded against them in some future court action. It was decided to form the group into an Incorporated Society and elect a new committee with the name, as we know it today, Alexandra District Flood Action Society Incorporated.

President - Bob Kilgour
Vice President - John Nelson
Secretary / Treasurer - Robert Cooper
Media spokesman- Laurence O’Connell
   
Committee: Stan Randle
  Mary Jaime
  Jolyon Manning
  John Douglas

Post Script

The committee has now expanded by co-opting Society members as being represented by the following interested parties;

Robin O’Brien - Clutha Guardians

Ted Dickison - Clutha Guardians / Alexandra Ratepayers Association

Brenda Dickison - Alexandra Ratepayers Association

John Harris - Central Otago Grey Power

Jackie Goyen - Central Otago Grey Power

Bob Harrison-Lee - Manuherikia River spokesperson


If you require additional information or would like to contact ADFAS then e-mail adfas@alexflood.org.nz