Work to prevent another flood happening in Skewen after residents' homes were destroyed earlier this year has begun.
Earlier this year 80 residents were evacuated from their homes after a disused mine shaft filled with water and "burst", sending water pouring into a large number of homes and gardens. Many residents were left with thousands of pounds worth of damage as a result, with some facing a long wait to be able to return to their homes.
Residents have been left living in "constant fear when it rains" following the flooding, while a compensation offer of £500 to residents whose homes were destroyed was slammed as "derisory". That offer has since been increased to £2,000.
Read more:The nightmares, sleepless nights and 'soul-destroying' memories of Skewen flood victims
Now, work on a new mine water management scheme has begun to try and prevent a repeat of events that took place in January.
The project will provide a new, permanent route for water from nearby mine workings and ensure any excess mine water from prolonged rainfall is collected by the scheme. It will be made up of new boreholes and a concrete capture structure to collect and route the mine water into a new culvert.
The system, including real time telemetry monitoring, was designed in consultation with residents and partner organisations including Neath Port Talbot Council and Natural Resources Wales.
Investigations concluded that extensive, additional engineering is needed to stabilise the ground around the blowout to provide the necessary foundations for the new pipe work and mine water capture structure, because of unique geology discovered on site. While gas, electricity, water and telephone utilities have all had to be relocated by the relevant providers.
Rhian David experienced excessive damage at her home in Jubilee Crescent where she lives with her husband and their two children as water poured inside the property, as well as into their garden.
The family have since been staying with Mrs David's mother and have recently been told that they may be able to return home at the end of November.
"We had information that they were doing things [installing the new mine water management scheme]," she said.
"We are still living with my mother at the moment. We were offered housing within the last couple of months but my son has become nervous and just wants to go home and not go anywhere in between so we have stayed here to keep him calm.
"We have been told that we could potentially have our keys back at the end of November but it will be like starting afresh as we need new carpets, settees, beds and mattresses. We are not allowed in the house until we have the keys back so I can't do things like get carpets measured or order settees. It will basically be like moving out for the first time again."
Mrs David described dealing with the Coal Authority as a "nightmare" after she says she was initially quoted £275 for a section of her garden to be concreted before it was later increased to £2,500.
She added: "We verbally agreed that they would put a patch of our garden from grass to concrete so our kids can play on it in the winter. It went from £275 when we spoke face to face to £2,500 when I sent them an email. I don't understand how it drastically jumped.
"Now they're saying they can't do it at all. We've had a nightmare with the Coal Authority."
Responding to Mrs David's concerns, a spokeswoman for the Coal Authority said: "We are in ongoing discussions with the resident about this matter and will continue to work with them.
"Our thoughts remain with all those affected by the incident in Skewen on 21 January 2021. We are continuing to work with residents on an individual basis – both in Skewen and through our dedicated residents’ helpline on 0800 2884268 – and with Neath Port Talbot Council and other partners to support the wider community recovery.
"We are offering whatever practical help and support we can within the bounds of the legislation and guidance we have to operate within. Our Skewen support policy has been developed to do this and can be found here. "
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The Coal Authority said that as a result of the additional works, the permanent scheme at the junction of Goshen Park is expected to be finished by the end of the year.
While construction is under way, Coal Authority teams remain on site daily and water levels in the mine system are continually monitored in real time. A high-capacity water pump remains on standby for use by the Coal Authority as an extra safeguard.
Lisa Pinney, the Coal Authority's chief executive, said: "The flooding earlier this year has had a significant impact on the community and our hearts remain with those affected.
"We can reassure the community that the risk of a similar incident is incredibly low as a result of the measures we’ve put in place since January, including monitoring water levels around the clock. While the new mine water management system will take longer than expected to build as a result of the geology found on site, it will provide an effective and permanent solution when completed.
"We are sorry for the ongoing disruption to residents caused by the road closure and are working hard to enable Neath Port Talbot Council to reopen the road as soon as it is safe to do so. Our dedicated 0800 2884 268 helpline remains open to help Skewen residents with any queries they have."
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