By Andrew Woodhouse
War widow Diane Green thought her fighting days were over, but the Darlinghurst resident is engaged in a new battle with Sydney Water.
Green and 20 other owners receive income from short-term accommodation bookings at their retirement “nest-egg” units in the Top of the Town apartment block facing Victoria Street and Darlinghurst Road. Now, the liveability and financial viability of these, and 56 other units, are threatened.
For the last year, Sydney Water contractors have been constructing a new underground water system, drilling three metres into solid rock overnight under the residents’ bedroom windows.
Known as Refresh Woolloomooloo, the project is replacing the storm and wastewater pipe currently in use, which was installed in the 19th Century.
The current system has a single pipe for stormwater and wastewater.
After high rains, the excess overflows untreated into Woolloomooloo Bay, causing pollution and odour.
To combat this, the works will separate the pipes, ensuring wastewater goes straight to the Bondi sewage treatment plant and stormwater to the Bay.
The new system will include five kilometres of pipes, about 140 new manholes, and will install four new trash traps to remove rubbish from stormwater.
The works are expected to continue until December 2019.
While residents agree the non-emergency upgrade is required, they say they are suffering as a result of the disruption to their sleep caused by the night works.
They claim work schedules are erratic, making planning impossible, and that they are issued same-day notices to remove vehicles from streets and only a few days’ notice of nocturnal excavations.
Last week a burst pipe appeared to cause major street flooding.
Green claims she is losing income as a result of the disruption.
“Tenants will not tolerate jackhammers overnight, (they) cancel bookings, and trash my unit in on-line reviews. I have bookings until March 2019. I am also concerned these major works will cause cracks in my apartment,” she says.
Residents describe sleepless nights filled with the sounds of industrial machines, mega-backhoes, mining jackhammers, arc lights turning night into day and drilling deep into bedrock.
They say see-though noise screens don’t actually cover the machinery.
Independent acoustic tests seen by City Hub show ultra-high decibel readings of 104dB at 10.45pm and 71 dB at 12.41am, way above acceptable noise limits.
HEARsmart, an organization which aims to improve hearing health in Australians, describes 104 decibels as about the same as the noise from a rock concert, and advises that it is only safe to be exposed to this noise level for 7.5 minutes without ear protection.
The website states “Extended or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels (approximately the level of a vacuum cleaner) can cause hearing loss.”
A spokesman for the Minister for Resources, Don Harwin MLC, told City Hub
“Sydney Water is working hard to minimise disruption. We’re aiming to finish work as quickly and safely as possible. Construction is only permitted within set times approved by the Transport Management Centre, however Sydney Water is working with the TMC to gain approval for more daytime work hours.”
Diane Green says “Our decibel readings are sky high, breaching EPA rules. This 18-month long-term work has ever-changing work schedules and lacks clarity. Our concerns are ignored. They should have obtained the right permission before, not after, works began.”
On the Sydney Water website, the Corporation’s Chief Executive Officer Kevin Young says he “understands what our customers really need,” and “We want to make sure everyone is delighted by their experience with us at every touch point. We operate under the Sydney Water Act…to protect public health (and) the environment using social responsibility through ecologically sustainable principles. These restore and enhance the quality of the environment (and) reduce risks to human health.”
Green counters “All these touchy-feely, customer-driven touch points, social responsibility, blah, blah, are a visage. Sydney Water is arrogant, ignorant and negligent. We need certainty, clarity and consistency otherwise we’ll go broke. I am totally frustrated.”
“Appropriate measures are in place to minimise construction noise and meet EPA requirements. Sydney Water apologises for the inconvenience and asks those impacted to understand that this short-term work will have benefits that will last a lifetime,” the Minister’s spokesperson said.
Locals say the improvement works should not be conducted at their expense.
The Sydney Water Customer Contract provides for payment of damages and compensation for any losses suffered.
The owners want a fixed timetable, indemnity for building damage, no night work, guaranteed end-by dates, noise reduction, changes to work hours, income compensation and $14,000 for double-glazing.
Stephan Győry, President of the Darlinghurst Business Partnership, says “Utilities seem to do whatever they want, whenever they want, disrupting whomever they want. These are necessary works vital to our quality of life (but) disturbing people’s sleep really is unhealthy and very stressful. Disturbing people’s businesses can bring ruinous losses, especially when works are for a protracted time. There are very simple things that they are not doing. For example, the sound barriers they use are nothing of the sort. Ideally, you’d cover that work in an acoustic tent.”