ICWES15 - Learning from Mistakes. Presented by Kelly A Stokes, Townsville Water, Townsville City Council, Australia


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  • Good Afternoon Special Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen. My presentation is titled: Learning from Mistakes. This may seem like a strange title for an engineering presentation, as most papers that will be delivered at this conference will focus on success. Today I will share the lessons that have been taken from a challenging project, so that other engineers and organisations can avoid the situation I am about to describe.
  • Townsville Water’s preference for the pump station location was in the road reserve, as it eliminated the need to engage in private land purchase, valuation and negotiation.
  • 1. 2. 3. 4. The station consisted of 2 rooms: A pump room for the main operation of the station; and a storeroom that had potential to be converted to chlorine dosing and storage as required in the future due to population growth in the area. 5……….. And a successful tenderer was selected, but the contract award was delayed due to the public interest in the project. 6.
  • Eyesore – 3x5m, concrete box, mural suggestion The serenity – more people would move to the community because the area was connected to town water, therefore destroying the serenity.
  • This was seen by some residents as placating them rather than taking time to deal with each issue. 2. 3. One of the publications declared that the aim of their group was to “Take the CON out of Consultation”. 4. 5. 6.
  • In preparation for the public meeting, information was gathered on the microbiological and chemical water quality of the bore water compared to town water. Posters were produced to explain the multiple barrier approach to water treatments, and the implications of the presence of Ecoli and Turbidity in drinking water. Engineering drawings were enlarged to provide detail of the building dimensions and the location in relation to the road. Flooding of the proposed location was discussed and it was explained that the topographical information used in the initial siting considerations was found to be flawed. A new survey had been requested, but the information was not available at the time of the meeting. It was important to admit this error, as it introduced transparency into the public meeting. By acknowledging the error, explaining how it occurred, and detailing how it would be fixed, the residents began to feel that they could trust Townsville Water. Prior to the meeting, and based on the public correspondence, it was thought that water quality was the greatest concern for the group, but traffic issues in the area were the main focus of the meeting. . Expert assistance was sought in these areas. 2. Following the second public meeting, the local councillor and the director agreed that the most popular course of action would be to purchase private land. The design of the pump station was slightly modified to suit the new location, and the tender was awarded.
  • In the case of the Mount Elliot community, information was not issued to residents in the initial stages as there was no information to give. Queries regarding cost, construction time and local traffic impacts could not be answered, as the answers to the questions lay in the submitted tenders hence the reason for calling the tender prior to issuing information to the public. In the case of the pump station project, once the initial queries regarding water quality, chemicals and the environment had been addressed, the major issue that forced the relocation of the pump station and the subsequent purchase of private land was traffic concerns in the area. Experts from the Roads and Traffic department of Townsville City Council were called upon for their specialist assessments, but emotion overrode the technical and engineering solutions presented. It is impossible to use common public communication techniques and still deliver a personalised response to queries. Even though the fact sheet developed by Townsville Water covered all of the issues raised by the residents through their enquiries, there were comments that the response was “too generic”. Further work can be conducted in this area in order to emphasise that good decision-making takes time, and that a rapid response may not be the most appropriate. The most important aspect is that the truth is told. Lastly, it is a normal feeling for people to be strongly against change. According to Greer, three things must be achieved if change is to be accepted…..Once the residents understood why the change was required, there was an increased level of acceptance.
  • 1. The decision to engage experts for the public meeting display preparations and attendance at the public meetings demonstrated that the concerns of the residents were taken seriously. 2. 3. 4. By outlining from the outset that the delivery of town water to the community was non-negotiable, the queries regarding water quality were answered, and allowed the residents to move on to their real concerns regarding the site of the pump station. 5. It was evident that we actively worked to resolve issues. 6. ……….will influence the actions of the author and the Townsville Water officers involved in future undertakings.
  • The interest of the community in local projects cannot be underestimated. At the beginning of the project, the community was wary of the intentions of Townsville Water. Through a community engagement process that was more involved than initially expected by council, trust was re-established and the core issues could be addressed. A final thought – Just as successes should be celebrated widely, failures should be acknowledged and reflected upon, as it is through failure that growth occurs.
  • ICWES15 - Learning from Mistakes. Presented by Kelly A Stokes, Townsville Water, Townsville City Council, Australia

    1. 1. Learning From Mistakes >> Kelly Stokes – Engineer, Townsville Water
    2. 2. The Project >> To construct a small (3m x 5m) water booster pump station to lift town water from Alligator Creek Road to the Mount Elliot Reservoirs. >> GHD designed building, road reserve location.
    3. 3. 28.5km from Townsville CBD
    4. 4. The Situation >> Community of Mount Elliot ~ 141 residences (395 residents). >> Existing Mount Elliot water supply was via a chlorinated council operated bore field -> reservoir -> gravitational reticulation. >> Conversion to town water as the final stage of the JACWSS project. >> Simple engineering – 2 room building, 3m x 5m. >> June 2009 - Tenders were called to gauge: - construction time frame; - cost; - construction traffic and local impacts. >> Tenders closed 3 July 2009. >> Residents in the community accessed the tender documents and began a protest / email bombardment towards the council.
    5. 5. The Concerns >> “Pristine” and reliable spring water >> Town water tastes like “pool water” >> Storage of chemicals on site: “gaseous fluoride”, “chlorine acid” >> Property values reduced due to the “eyesore”, destroying “the serenity” >> “Dangerous” corner, location and building would make it worse >> Possible flooding issues >> Perceived cost vs. benefit to community >> Correspondence was sent to the Mayor, Councillors and Townsville Water staff (Ken Diehm (Director), Kelly Stokes).
    6. 6. The Response (both sides) >> Townsville Water gave a standard email recognition to every email, acknowledging concerns and promising a detailed response. >> Community action group formed called “Pump Action”. >> “Pump Action” publish article in The Alligator Creek Times and on their own webpage. >> Fact sheet letterbox drop to all Mount Elliot residents, and detailed response by Townsville Water to every email. >> “Pump Action” demand water quality data. >> Public meeting - July 2009.
    7. 7. The Response (both sides) >> Technical q uestions were answered but further issues raised, particularly regarding flooding, traffic and visibility. Expert opinions sought. >> Two further public meetings held. >> Alternative sites investigated and private land purchase initiated. >> Tender awarded, construction begins December 2009. >> “Pump Action” selects pump station paint colour. >> Pump station commissioned 29 July 2010 and test run for two weeks. >> Residents informed of town water switch 16 August 2010.
    8. 8. The Result
    9. 9. The Lessons >> Information Only – do not need to consult 1 . Half true! Consultation implies some form of give and take. >> The initial protest subject may not be the most important issue or the topic that most residents feel strongly about 2 . >> Interaction with the public and citizens’ groups pose the biggest communication challenge 3 . Need to emphasise that good decision-making takes time. >> That the change must be understood 4 . >> That individuals must believe it is good for them 4 . >> That individuals must believe it is good for the community 4 . 1. Queensland Government Department of Emergency Services “A Guide to Effective Engagement 2010” www.emergency.qld.gov.au/publications/ 2. Victorian Local Governance Association “Community Consultation Resource Guide 2010” www.vlga.org.au/ 3. Bishop, B (2003). “Water utility communication practices – what contributes to success?”. Journal AWWA, Jan 2003, 95,1, pp42-51. 4. Greer, B (2010). “How to overcome “not in my backyard” syndrome”. Engineers Australia magazine, Jun 2010, 82, 6, pp67.
    10. 10. The Successes >> Responses to the residents were clear, well informed, truthful, comprehensive. >> The subject of discussion, reasons for the meetings, and the objectives were concise and defined. >> Residents understood the reasons for the change and understood why the status quo could not continue. >> Some aspects were up for negotiation, others were not. >> Rapport was achieved in the end, but it came after Townsville Water started on the back foot, and did a lot of work to regain the community’s trust. >> Evaluation of the project – valuable process.
    11. 11. Acknowledgements >> Townsville Water Ken Diehm, Rob McCaig, Edgar Salvador, Jo Csik >> Townsville City Council Neil King, Douglas Lee >> Councillors Trevor Roberts, Vern Veitch >> Mount Elliot community
    12. 12. Questions? >> Kelly Stokes Engineer, Townsville Water [email_address]