After a storm ripped through the Belconnen region in early January, many residents were left managing potentially dangerous debris outside their homes for up to two months, prompting some to suggest the ACT Government was “ill-prepared” for an event like this.
The government is now conducting an inquiry into the devastating storms to see what could be done better in the future.
So far, only one public submission has been received.
Bruce Wright of Latham has provided a detailed explanation of the difficulties he and his wife faced in attempting to get some help from authorities cleaning up the streets.
Mr Wright wrote the 3 January storm brought down a “very large pine tree branch” at an intersection immediately in front of his home. Not only did it block the public footpath, but part of it landed on his garden.
The following day, Mr Wright lodged a submission with Fix My Street.
“As is usual, the automated email which acknowledged my submission said: ‘you should be expected to be contacted within 10 working days’ … but such contact rarely happens,” he said.
Indeed, six-and-a-half weeks later, Mr Wright and his wife had yet to hear from the ACT Government, nor had anyone come along to help with the cleanup. During this time, he’d updated his Fix My Street submission and written directly to Minister for Transport and City Services Chris Steel.
But no visible action was taken – although he did note he’d seen many crews erecting signs in the area to say clean up efforts were underway.
Like many Belconnen residents, he immediately took to clearing the footpath of the bulk of the debris. A neighbour assisted by taking five loads of green waste to the tip, “but the bulk remained”, Mr Wright said.
Eventually, Mr Wright received an email to tell him the incident had been resolved. He claimed that was not the case and replied to that effect.
Then, on 9 March, two months after the storm, a crew turned up to help clear the bulk of the material.
However, Mr Wright said they left “two to three metres of the thickest part of the trunk and lots of litter of smaller branches, leaves, cones and needles”. A fortnight later, nothing had changed.
Mr Wright has criticised the government’s response and communication to the public. Although he acknowledged the job was huge, he questioned why no one looked for extra resources for weeks after the event.
“The response from the ACT Government to the damage was slow; advice to the public about what was happening was slow, ineffective and poorly communicated; and no one actually checked what was done and what was not,” he said.
“[The] government applied insufficient resources. Approaching three months later, it is still far from complete.”
The ACT Government did allocate additional resources to the storm clean-up, with an announcement made on 4 February – a month after the event – that Transport Canberra and City Services would have their ranks bolstered by an additional 20 ACT Parks and Conservation Services members.
The Emergency Services Agency and the State Emergency Service managed recovery efforts.
At this time, Deputy Chief Minister and Member for Ginninderra Yvette Berry urged the community to leave the rest of the clearing up to the professionals, but she thanked them for having started the job.
“That’s what Canberrans do in a crisis like this … we support one another,” she said.
Ms Berry also asked for people to log requests for assistance via the government’s Fix My Street portal, although it seems that they did become overwhelmed, as evidenced by Mr Wright’s experience.
Mr Steel recently confirmed 2000 requests for help with debris clean-up were lodged through the Fix My Street portal.
The ACT Government’s inquiry into the West Belconnen supercell thunderstorm is accepting submissions until 22 April.