Elected Life Member in 1997
Many of Omaha's 'newcomers' may be unaware of the enormous amount of work local resident Bill Freeth has put into Omaha on behalf of its residents over the past 30 years.
Formerly involved in tanner management in Auckland, Bill and his wife Joan bought their first Omaha property in 1972. They pitched their tent here and shared the whole spit with only one other person - Barry Cooper, who was in the site office.
For the past 25 years Bill had spent his holidays at Northland beaches, but due to a booking error had to spend one holiday at Waiheke which was a disaster, so the couple decided to look north for a place to buy. Omaha was as far as he got. Bill and Joan were not the first purchasers of sections, however. Within a month of the release of Stage One, which included Broadlands Drive, Mieklejohn Way, Darroch Slope and Kitty Frazer Lane, about 75 per cent of the sections where sold, and the couple had to find a 'for sale' sign on a section they liked, then take it to the site office to complete their property purchase. Bill paid $5600 for a section in Meiklejohn Way and built his house - the fifth completed at Omaha, in 1973.
There was great camaraderie in those days, Bill says, and fellow 'Omaharians' could include solicitors to truck drivers, doctors and everything in between.
Friday night gatherings were memorable and the residents started getting things happening by pitching in to plant trees - there were only three existing trees on this otherwise barren and windswept subdivision.
The rumblings at these meetings also discussed a feeling of being 'shortchanged' by the developers and in 1974 Bill and John Foster established a ratepayers association. They met with the developers, originally Bob Green but by now taken over by Broadlands at their downtown Auckland offices, then progress to a restaurant to further discuss the problems over dinner.
They were great evenings and the discussions focused on ensuring the developers met their commitment in the glossy books to provide a golf course and tennis courts. Spearing flounder in the waters that once pooled where the golfcourse now lies, was a great pastime, but by 1976 that was gone and the golf course was established.
Up to 100 people gathered at the ratepayers association AGM held in Meiklejohn Reserve, and people were interested in their community - it was quite unique, Bill says.
A great sea wall of longitudinal timbers, Tanalise 300 X 50, and poles as big as power poles protected the foreshore - the former sanddunes having been levelled and planted along the built-up land behind the sea wall with Norfolk Pines.
An on-shore easterly around Easter of 1978 scoured under the wall and took away much of the sand built up behind the wall. One house was already built on the foreshore, owned by Vic Glucina who used to boast of being able to fish off his deck. During this storm the water swirled around this house, and it had to be shifted to its present site on the eastern corner of Darroch Slope and Kitty Frazer Lane.
The council didn't honour the design of the foreshore wall that required sand top be built up well above its lowest planks, Bill says. The seas were tremendous, and they broached a lake that was at the northern end of the spit.
Omaha now had 250 property owners, and their property prices plummeted. $11,500 would have bought you a beachfront property. Many of these properties had disappeared into the sea but Broadlands paid the property owners out.
Dutch engineer Professor Raudkieve was brought out to New Zealand to help solve the problem, and he recommended the groynes, and rocks along the foreshore from where the Omaha Surf Club is now located, to about the end of Daydawn Slope - the end of stage three. For eight months a dredge worked in the inner harbour removing the sand that had been deposited there.
There followed many months, even years of grief as the developers, the Rodney District Council and the property owners struggled for solutions. It took Omaha five years to get its dignity back, says Bill, and he remembers some people choosing not to admit they had property at Omaha, others being abused in the street because of the cost impact of trying to solve and pay for the solutions. Bill remembers going into a three-chair barber's for a haircut and keeping very quiet about where he lived. It wasn't until 1989 that his section had increased in value to $50,000, and the government valuation on his property was $215,000. (The average price of a property at Omaha today is $700,000. and a beachfront property, undeveloped, recently sold for $1.6 million.)
"But we had a fabulous committee of people who were genuinely interested in the area," Bill says.
The nub of the problem was the millions of dollars it was going to cost to solve the problem, and only a few hundred ratepayers. Omaha and some parts of Whangateau were deemed 'areas of benefit' - Whangateau was also suffering from flooding problems.
A group was formed to take legal action against the council and Broadlands and they won. The 'area of benefit' designation was withdrawn. The development was stopped at that point of 390 sections, and construction of the rock groyne began. Bill says the ratepayer's association's relationship was still good, but things began to deteriorate. There was the issue of no sewerage scheme, and that needed to be resolved. Sewerage was pumped down to holding tanks on the golf course, then trucked away via a local contractor, his truck emblazoned 'Pete's takeaways'. In the same milktanker trucks he used to deliver water, the service called 'Pete's refreshments', and locals always hoped the trucks never got mixed up.
Initially the 'takeaways' were spread on the southern end of Omaha, then called Mangatawheri Farm. This was no longer acceptable, so the council then proposed a sea outfall, which was not acceptable. Then there was talk of relocating the old treatment plant from Red Beach to the Omaha entrance area by Broadlands Drive and between the two golf courses. That would be turned into wetlands with rushes growing in the effluent. That was unacceptable, then the council suggested 100 acres of land up Jones Road.
The Omaha ratepayers were levied a sewerage scheme fund in the event of having to fund an alternative scheme, but eventually the developers and the council provided the scheme which was officially opened in 1989. The Omaha people had already been levied to pay for the straightening and sealing of the road from the now vineyard at Takatu corner, to the Omaha Flats Road turnoff, and then they were further levied to pay for the sealing right into the development. The council wouldn't pay for that particularly sharp corner that saw many cars crash before it was finally straightened in 1999??.
Then there was the issue of bore water that was being used for the Omaha development, and the golf course. Each section was reticulated for water which had to 'kick in' after the water tank was less than one third empty, but that system was a disaster, Bill says. More than 80 per cent of the pipes leaked, and the water turned foul through lack of use. That system was disconnected in about 1989 and every home now relies on roof collection for its water.
Bill and Joan became permanent residents in 1985 and Bill remained a dedicated member of the ratepayer's association, serving as a president for seven years, and committee member for six years. There was one period when Bill stood down from the committee, and that was when they abandoned the principle of a special levy for Omaha, and when Bill rejoined the association in 1990 he had that 'jamjar account' reinstated.
Each year the committee would meet with the council and go through the area's 'wish list' of things to be done, and the committee was aware there was an accumulation of at least $900,000, but they were surprised, along with the council's chairman Sir Gordon Mason, that the actual figure was $1.2 million, maybe the equivilent to $3M - $4M in today's terms, Bill says.
The ratepayers association had to take their case to the audit department of the ombudsman's office, with their claim that the money had to be spent in Omaha, and they won. A shopping list was drawn up for acquisition of the golf course, that until then was run by the developers, a community centre, a jetty and boat ramp, bays on the bridge into Omaha for people fishing, realignment of the tennis courts that used to face into the rising or setting sun, and the establishment of a surf club - another project Bill was very involved with and he is honoured with a life membership.
The golf course was purchased for $150,000, the community centre cost $500,000 to build, The number of tenniscourts was increased from two to four, and soon after the bowling club was also built.
The developers, Challenge, from Fletcher Challenge, who had taken over from Broadlands, at this time finished their association with Omaha and the undeveloped northern tip of Omaha was sold to Alastair Dryden.
Bill still has strong views about Omaha's direction, decisions made, opportunities lost, but he is a life member but now takes no active part.
Bill is quite proud of his 1992 Rodney District Council Community Service Award and really enjoyed the years of trials and tribulations of working towards the betterment of Omaha Beach, especially the camaraderie of being involved with so many others of like mind.