Gerry Brownlee and the CERA team are meeting regularly with all Christchurch elected members to brief us and keep two way communications going.
We met on Wednesday night. It will, I think, be the last meeting with John Ombler in the position of interim head. Roger Sutton, whose appointment as CERA’s first permanent Chief Executive has received huge community acclaim was also present and answered some questions. (He does great hugs too. Always a sign of a good leader.)
There were a number of matters discussed, the biggest of which I want to touch on here. It’s all information which you are welcome to share.
Minister Brownlee spoke at length and then answered a number of questions on where government is up to with the land assessment programme that may well see some land currently used for housing no longer able to be used in that way.
We are all awaiting the announcement from the Minister about where that land is. It’s the big question. It’s clear that it is occupying the vast majority of his time. Also clear is the fact that he wants the matter resolved quickly, but well, and that he is unable to make a determination yet because not all of the necessary material is available to the Crown.
Factoring into decisions about “retreat” are things like this.
– the ability of the ground to take treatment. Its bearing capacity. Its ablity to withstand further shaking into the future.
– economic issues
– precedent control (whatever is done in Christchurch has to be replicable elsewhere – and the EQC fund still has to provide care for the rest of the country.
– community matters (education, health, social, cultural wellbeing)
– future hazard control
The thought process the crown is following as they will be making their decisions on retreat includes this stuff.
– can the land be physically rememdiated?
– is crown intervention necessary to return it to its pre September condition?
– if so, what is the nature of that intervention – and is it viable?
– would reinsurance be reasonably available if housing were to return there?
– are there any other public policy issues that would militate against rebuilding?
The Minister made it very clear that one of the key considerations for him is making sure all participants are on the same page and heading in the same direction before decisions are made. He wants homeowners equity protected. My perception is that the final hurdle is getting consistency across the insurers – no easy task.
EQC alone has 40 reinsurers. Each of them has subsequent reinsurers. Cats to be herded. A phenomenal challenge for the world’s largest ever insurance event. (After the May 23rd deadline passed, EQC had received 344,364 claims, with 510,000 individual claims in that. Those numbers are far higher than Hurricane Katrina, higher than lowly insured Japan.)
On that scale issue, I have now heard repeated comments that Art Agnos who was mayor of San Francisco during their terrible quake was astonished at the enormity of ours. Theirs was confined to a relatively small area. Ours is huge.
That will make us the centre of attention for study for seismic activity for a long time. It’s now thought that we are looking at a longer term seismic series. (The latest guess is apparently that we have a 23% chance within the next year of a shake between 6 and 7 on the Richter scale, and dropping to 10% over the next 2 years. There is a chance of over 90% that we will have another shake between 5 and 6 in the next twelve months, dropping to over 70% in that two year horizon. Nobody was able to answer questions about Mercalli scale or g-force or depth so you can take those figures for what they’re worth. What we are seemingly certain of is that you shouldn’t put your blu-tac away just yet.)
It’s likely too that we will be a monitored as a case study of how a community rebuilds after an event which is so big and so transformational. With every week that passes, it is clearer than before that we are not talking about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off, being the same and doing the same things. Our community and our city is undergoing a metamorphosis which is physical, human, psychological. None of us individually or as a collective will ever be the same again.
If you’re into statistics grab hold of these.
We have to completely replace about 300km of our sewer network. We have to repair 600km of roading network and replace more besides. Add into that our water and stormwater damage and with the Crown’s help we will be spending $500million per annum for five years. That is ten times what the CCC normally spends on capital expenditure. It is enormous.
We learnt too more about the timeline for CERA’s Recovery Strategy and Recovery Plans. There will be a formal public process which starts sometime in June. Full community engagement will be sought, and the ‘shareanidea’ material provided to the council is feeding into that second process.
We saw charts which indicated the city’s land has moved permanently, both up and down. The Port Hills have gone up, the rest of the city has gone down. It has spun clockwise to varying degrees right across the city. The estuary has moved upwards as much as two metres. It’s shallower. At some point we will have to make a call about how to handle that.
Some land has lost its structural integrity completely. Some has sunk very badly, some has fallen off. And the rocks are still there, and they will be for a while. They’ve been here longer than we’ve been here, after all.
I don’t have a clear answer about when the “retreat” question will be answered. I have a clear view, however, that Minister Brownlee is not a man who is prepared to tolerate procrastination, and that he is all too clear just how miserable and stressful it is for people waiting for the answers to that horrible question.
As hard as it is we just have to wait a little longer. In many ways this is probably the calm before the storm, a storm which I suspect is likely to fall upon us in the depths of a long, cold, Canterbury winter. All the more reason to hold the ones you love close, do the things you enjoy best, and try as hard as you can to keep the faith that we must be in for brighter days to come.