Cyclone Gabrielle: Māori landowners agree to construction of bypass through whenua after bridge washes away

Māori landowners have agreed to a bypass being built through their whenua after the Hikuwai Bridge north of Tolaga Bay washed away during Cyclone Gabrielle.

But it won't come cheap and the owners have been crossing their fingers hoping Waka Kotahi will help to foot the bill.

The new bypass is under construction and will reconnect the isolated Tokomaru Bay community.

"During the week post-Gabrielle, when the question was raised about the use of our land to create a bypass road for access, it was a simple yes," said Kylee Potae of Pourau Incorporation.

The land is owned by the Pourau Incorporation. They're contributing about $200,000 towards the project, which is estimated to cost up to $1.2 million.

"We have to give the whenua to let access happen in a timely manner so that people can get through to Gisborne without those fuel costs or time costs," Potae said.

Because right now, it's about a nine-hour round trip to Gisborne from Tokomaru Bay and it's hoped the new bypass will be ready within weeks.

"They can't even drive out north and come around the coast. They're having to go around goat tracks, which is really dangerous," Potae said.

So, why is the bypass needed? Well, the sheer force of the floods destroyed Hikuwai Bridge Number One and it's now just a mangled mess

The four-kilometre bypass travels above the Hikuwai River to reconnect with Hikuwai Bridge Number Three.

The sheer scale of debris around the Hikuwai Bridge is enough to take your breath away. Yellow markers indicate where a temporary Bailey bridge is planned to be installed, but that could take months.

"Times like these call for everybody to rally together and do what they can do to make things easier and share the burden," said Ma Parata, general manager of Kuru Contracting.

It's also being funded by Kuru Contracting, who pitched the idea to Pourau Incorporation. Both parties are hoping the New Zealand Transport Agency will chip in.

"Our directors have agreed to carry the cost to date," Parata said.

On Tuesday afternoon there was some good news. Waka Kotahi's board agreed to "make payment from the Land Transport Fund to secure access to a Hikuwai Diversion Route", with some conditions.

"I think this is a really good test case for what co-governance could look like," Potae said.

A new road and a new hope for a devastated community.

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