Cyclone Gabrielle: Hawke's Bay locals furious as funding for silt clean-up runs out

Hawke's Bay residents and growers are furious and frustrated the region's silt clean-up work is being stopped next week because funding has run out.

Those in charge of the operation say they need another $80 million from the Government to finish the job.

An abandoned digger sits perched on a mountain of silt, as funds fueling the clean-up have dried up.

"What do I do with this lump of soil? It's just nonsense," said orchardist Cameron Taylor.

He's not even halfway through digging out his apple orchards, but work has been halted overnight because the money has simply run out.

"I'm speechless, I can't comprehend it. Business life doesn't work that way - you can't just stop. If you start a job you've got to finish it," he told Newshub.

The timing couldn't be worse.

His trees are budding but he can't spray them to prevent disease. 

"We're in a mess. We can't drive tractors down the row."

Cyclone Gabrielle dumped 20 million tonnes of silt on Hawke's Bay's floodplains.

The 'Silt Recovery Taskforce' was set up to get rid of it, because it isn't safe for people to take it to the council's dump sites themselves.

With the initial $40 million in Government funding, the group has cleared 900,000 cubic metres of silt and debris so far.

But the job is just 40 percent done.

And with no more funding all work will stop by next Friday.

"Our hands are tied a little bit," said Darren de Klerk, lead for the Silt Recovery Taskforce.

"Every day is a day lost when we know our growers and landowners are in a bit of a race against time," he told Newshub.

There are still hundreds of thousands of tonnes of silt yet to clean up in Te Matau a Māui / Hawke's Bay.
One of the main silt sorting sites in Hawke's Bay. Photo credit: Newshub.

It's a similar sight at Mel Gale's property in Esk Valley, where piles of silt line the roadside.

"Absolutely stumped and lost as to what we are going to do - we're sitting there just staring at it all," she told Newshub.

"I personally feel extremely let down by the Government, and I can't understand how we can be left with these huge piles of silt on our property, and no idea of when they're going to be moved, when we're going to have our land back, when we're going to be able to make any money off our land. Anything! It's very frustrating."

Chris Hipkins visited Hawke's Bay yesterday as Prime Minister, where he put another $12 million into the Silt Taskforce.

However, they say they need at least $80 million more to finish the job - something Hipkins won't commit to.

"[I'm] certainly happy to look at it. We've said that we'll support communities through silt clean-up," he told Newshub.

The National Party similarly won't commit to more silt clean-up funding if it's elected in October.

"We're going to honour the commitments that have been made by the Government. We're going to actually speed it up," said party leader Christopher Luxon.

Cyclone Recovery Minister Grant Robertson told Newshub the council's original estimate for the entire silt clean-up was $80 million, but the taskforce says that simply isn't true - it had always been much higher.

"We flagged back in March that $200 million would be a sum that we had identified would get 25 percent of the silt across land," de Klerk told Newshub.

Silt that's now causing serious health concerns.

"We've got to complete this so I can sow some grass to stop the dust. This is a health hazard, it's just terrible," said Taylor.

And a health hazard is the last thing this region needs.

Robertson told Newshub: "The Cyclone Response Unit is working urgently with the local authorities on how we can provide further support for Hawke's Bay to get as much silt removed before the planting season."