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September 22nd 2010
“Inept and negligent design” causes flooding in Horseshoe

John Wicking with the petition he is preparing For years now the residents of Horseshoe Bay’s Apjohn Street and Corica Crescent neighbourhoods have waded and even paddled their way through their streets which regularly become flooded waterways after heavy rain. Whilst the area is naturally low lying the residents believe their problems are more the result of “inept and negligent design” and, after years of waiting for Council to act, they have begun a petition and are also threatening a class action.

With recent downpours portentous of another big wet on the way, resident and retired Senior Lecturer in Electrical Engineering from JCU, Mr John Wicking, is leading the charge to get Council to act on a flood mitigation strategy which identified the problem in 2005.

“This is a negligent design and TCC have been made aware of it a number of times over a number of years,” says John who, along with another 37 petitioners, “...believe the situation has been exacerbated by Council’s approval of head works up stream of Apjohn Street causing additional water to flow down the street,” and, “Council charges headworks fees to each developer yet, even after continued written complaints and evidence, refused to rectify the situation.”

With an engineer’s eye for detail, cause and effect, John Wicking showed Magnetic Times the most glaring aspect of the problem. On Apjohn street, running down from a large pipe beneath Horseshoe Bay Road is a drain which runs past several houses while shrinking away to almost nothing. According to John Wicking, after about 150mm of rain - a reasonably common event on Magnetic Island - the vanishing drain is exactly where the mass of water from a large catchment, which reaches right back up above Horseshoe Bay road as it comes off the Horseshoe Bay hill - is directed. Inevitably, the water simply washes across the road and across the residents’ gardens.

John Wicking stands on Apjohn Street near where the drain vanishes

To dramatically illustrate exactly what happens all too often, John made a flood video which tracks the water flow from developements upstream down to a flooded Apjohn street. (here).

John Wicking believes the solution is a simple one. A large drain needs to be built on the other (southern) side of Apjohn street to carry the seasonal flows down to meet the large culvert which runs parallel to and behind Corica Crescent.

Magnetic Times sought a comment from Magnetic Island Councillor, Trevor Roberts who wrote: “There’s a number of factors which compound the problem - the narrow layout of the streets, the limited capacity of storm water drainage under private driveways, and the problem of groundwater flows after a big deluge.”

John Wicking, who has measured the widths of the streets, told Magnetic Times, “The assertion that the streets are narrow is not evident,” and,  “The limited capacity of water drainage under driveways is also not evident”. He notes that after number 37 Apjohn Street, “the drain ceases to exist” and that, “The capacity of street drains is a council responsibility. There is no further drain at this point and hence, there is no further capacity”.

He is also dismissive of “deluges”, as more of a, “biblical term rather than one that can be applied to rainfall.

“Rainfalls of 150 mm will cause flooding in Apjohn St.. This can occur several times during the course of the wet season. It is not an atypical event.”

According to a letter from Council’s Infrastructure Services Department, Acting Manager Investigations, Ms CordeliaDe Kievit, to another resident, “...this area experiences extended periods of groundwater flows long after rain events have ceased and can last up to three months after the wet season. Provision for this must also be considered in any design solution.”

But, according to the letter, a watercourse down the southern side of Apjohn Street is also seen as the “best option” but will require, “new culverts under Horseshoe Bay Road and the construction of a new ‘natural’ creek or large underground drain,...and may require the acquisition of land from the adjoining property”.

Due to "significant costs" the Infrastructure Services’ claim is that they lack the funding for such work, “in the immediate future”.

Residents would likely keep their gumboots handy following the further advice that the (Apjohn drainage) works, “are being considered along with other similar drainage problems and priorities identified in Council’s 10 year capital works program”.

What riles John Wicking is that, “Council has approved, and received funds for the development of residential property upstream of the Apjohn St. water course,” and, “This water flow has been obviously directed to Apjohn Street.”

“The flooding is not caused by excessive rain as claimed, but rather by an inept and negligent design. The Council is liable to rectify this situation it has caused and perpetuates”. 

Cr Roberts told Magnetic Times, “The council has developed a flood mitigation strategy for the city which investigates costs and prioritises projects across the city and I’ll be pushing very strongly for Apjohn St to be right up there.”

There seems little doubt that the residents of Apjohn and adjoining streets will be closely watching his efforts.

Story & photos: George Hirst

To add your comment,
or read those of others, see below


“Inept and negligent design” causes flooding in Horseshoe
September 22nd 2010
Couldnt agree more with this report - The flood happens regularly, even with light rains it takes some time for the water to clear Apjohn St. I'd be happy to get behind any group to lobby council for action.
Sylvia Hayes
September 22nd 2010
Wow...great home video, John. Good on you, and George, for publicising this disgraceful state of affairs.
What is that $100,00 for "upgrade to Horseshoe Bay Road" to be spent on, that I recently read about?
Seems to me it should be spent right here.
September 22nd 2010
Uh? What about Mandalay Avenue, Nelly Bay?? I have communicated with TCC and brought to its attention that...hello?? this is the 21st century and one should not have to take ones's shoes off to enable one to walk to the ferry to go to work to earn one's peanuts to pay, inter alia, TCC rates.
September 22nd 2010
There is no design for that part of Apjon streat.It is just what has happend over the years as with most of the roads on the island.
September 22nd 2010
If we're having a travelogue on Apjohn Street why not continue along to the other (western) end where the same street crosses the big dip and causeway at Gorge Creek.
Gorge Creek's dynamic seems to have been effected in the last few years as a result of the input of new water flows from outside its natural catchment - stormwater from a Council approved sub-division on Gifford Street. These waters would otherwise drain into the Horseshoe Bay Lagoon and Conservation Park. It looks as though an extra load of say, 5-10% on top of an already large event in the Gorge Creek catchment, can cause catastrophic flooding and bank erosion leading to unusually fast changes to the creek channel down near the mouth on what would be Pacific Drive - next to the mouth of the much larger Endeavour Creek.
Council has to hand an extensive range of reports on what could be done in Horseshoe Bay. Unfortunately, in this case knowledge is not power.
john Wicking
September 22nd 2010
I have set up an email account for people to contact me regarding co-ordinating our actions. The email account is

Thanks for your comments
September 27th 2010
Horseshoe Bay's quite spectacular natural overland hydrology,which feeds the unique lagoon system within its extensive dune system -- essential for wildlife viability in the dry season -- has been severely disrupted by Council authorised works, both historic (eg Corica Crescent) and more recent(eg apjohn and Gifford Streets).

A relatively recent hydrology report (authors Cuff and Rassmussen) commissioned by the previous Mooney administration clearly identifies problems with the bay's natural flow regime caused by environmentally deficient engineering standards and processes. This report, paid for by ratepayers, should have been made available to interested residents, but "somehow" was not endorsed for release -- at least, not when I looked some months ago. The only persons I know who obtained a copy did so at some expense through the Freedom of Information process.

The damage to Horseshoe Bay done by poor engineering is minimally threefold: firstly, to residents; secondly, to the natural landforms and processes, and thirdly and inevitably, to wildlife. This new hydrology is not stable (refer to the Beckers), and its predictable impacts will continue to damage over time, especially during extreme weather.

It should be noted that:
1. The Horseshoe Bay lagoon complex, essential to the conservation of both the island's and region's Dry Tropics ecology, is scientifically identified as quite unique within the entire Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area -- that is, it has an identified value of international signficance, and
2. Recent engineering works for major subdivisions, fully endorsed by the previous administration, were consistent with the then Council's demonstrable (published) aversion to the island's World Heritage status, and
3. The real concerns (and since realised impacts) on downstream residents, made plain, were ignored.

All this unnecessary damage has occurred DURING the emergence of climate change as a real phenomenon (doubters/deniers please READ insurance industry forecasts, where science meets commerce -- yes, in detail).

But let's move on. Perhaps the current council would release the Horseshoe Bay hydrology report (if this hasn't already occurred) and do some holistic restoration planning and engineering, aimed at conserving and restoring the bay's natural hydrology as much as possible, whilst affording residents proper storm water management. This means treating Horseshoe Bay in its entirety rather than continuing to allow the block by block operational approach, absolutely supported by the previous mob. That is, in practical terms, applying environmental/restoration engineering, to alleviate residents' problems whilst also restoring as much of the natural flow as possible -- and also sorting the fractured mess around the creeks, seasonal swamps, semi-tidal lagoons and the extraordinary foredunes. Such a project could have multiple, quite wonderful outcomes.

Given predicted intensifying weather patterns, such restorative engineering is essential for the long term viability of the beach and lagoon system, and to residents' health and safety -- SOON.


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