FREMANTLE council is ducking for cover after a 10-metre limestone retaining wall being built next to a school was so unsound it had to be demolished before it collapsed.
Contractors—who the council refuses to name—closed East Street on Wednesday when the wall they were constructing opposite John Curtin College of the Arts started to peel away from the limestone cliff face. The entire thing was later demolished.
The council is refusing to answer the Herald’s questions about the contract and the incident. Instead, it issued a statement claiming a chunk of falling rock damaged the wall, making it unsafe to finish. It’s investigating why the rock fell.
But the Herald has been contacted by locals saying the single-brick wall—with no anchors to the cliff—was never going to be strong enough for the job.
“I watched that go up and I mentally hoped that they were going to fill behind it in stages with reinforced concrete over many days,” Sarah McEvoy told the Herald.
Instead, over a few hours a bobcat dropped bucket loads of dry sand into the gap between the wall and the cliff face.
“You do not have to be a civil engineer to understand that if you lean something up against a wall then fill behind with something runny it is going to keel over,” Ms McEvoy said.
Engineers the Herald spoke to were reluctant to comment without seeing plans, but one expressed surprise the wall was back-filled with sand and hadn’t been angled.
Ms McEvoy’s now concerned about the street’s other high walls.
“The most important question is, how safe is the more northerly section in the same street, built seemingly in the same way, about the same height with the same sort of blocks and at the same angle?
“Does it have rock anchors?
“Are we to wake up and read about a bus passing that got crushed under that previously constructed section?”
Ms McEvoy says neighbours’ windows had popped as a result of the demolition.
“When you look at the ladder and the steel RSJ on top of it someone was very lucky not to have been killed,” says Les Emery, who was around the corner when the wall came down.
While the Herald was taking photos of the wall before its demolition, diverted buses had to cross onto the wrong side of the road to turn into Ellen Street. That put them on the wrong side of a median strip directly in front of the main entrance to John Curtin.
Carol Hoath says she warned the council two weeks ago, when contractors removed trees along the top of the cliff, that far from making the area safer they were endangering motorists and students.
“The tree roots were the only thing holding that ridge together,” she told the Herald.
“They were Rotto tea-trees and they were perfect for that site.
The council’s statement says the site was secured throughout the work and no-one, including contractors, had been at risk. It says the works were part of scheduled maintenance and had been designed by qualified structural engineers in consultation with geotechnical engineers.
by STEVE GRANT