Opinion: Infrastructure on West Coast needs addressing

  • Opinion
  • 23/04/2019

By Peter Langford.

OPINION: Natural disasters seem to hit the West Coast regularly in various forms. 

A drought in the northern coast and valleys this summer and a major rain event in the south created mayhem in the Arahura, Waiho and South Westland Rivers.

A farm was also isolated in the back of Hokitika Valley. Thankfully a recovery team from has moved in to help the Arahura Valley farmers get their boundary fences back up to keep stock contained. Hopefully this team will move to the Waiho Valley now the access is open again and once stop banks are reinstated. No point in building fences until then. All materials have to be supplied and on-site before they will consider coming down.

West Coast farmers struggling with flood damage

First vehicles roll across Waiho River's new bridge

The Rural Support Trust has assisted where possible with temporary electric fence gear and portable electric units to help keep stock off roads and out of rivers. 

We get knocked down and we get back up again the song goes, but we are getting a bit sick of being called resilient when it is costing so much extra to recover from these incidents. 

Some of this one was preventable, especially in the Waiho. The bridge approach issues were reported to NZTA well before the flood took the bridge out. 

Why no action? The riverbed has been gradually building up over the years, but no bulldozers were shaping the riverbed to protect assets. Why no action? Is it a case of, we will spend nothing and see if we can get away with it? Where is the 100 year plan? The Waiho River will need constant work because of the receding glacier so a long-term, sustainable management plan is needed. This may be applicable on other rivers.

Initially they talked about closing the Waiho Valley down and moving people out with a $25 million Government grant, but how does that possibly stack up when about $24 million comes out of that valley every year at present and could increase in years to come. 

It is a no brainer that the Westland area cannot do without this rates take, support workers for the Franz Joseph Township and children to support the local school continuing. 

The Waiho is home to 83 people, 4 dairy farms (5000 cows) 15 properties carrying sheep, beef, horses and bees and at least 20 tourism businesses.

One of the big issues facing farmers and other land owners is the ready supply or river protection rock. The nearest WCRC run quarry is 20 kilometres away at Whataroa. There is local rock nearby but mostly on Department of Conservation (DOC) land which is retained for their use only. 

Further south, on the Fox and Cook Rivers they have the same problem of having to cart, about 50kms, from Whataroa. The dairy farm at Fox lost five hectares of good pasture out to sea and several kilometres of boundary fencing. They urgently need 6000 plus tonnes of rock. Why can't they access DOC land to get rock?

This brings me to the vulnerability of the West Coast road networks. 

The Ahuara and Waiho River single lane bridges are two that need some urgent attention as main link roads. It is good to see some passing bays being installed on the Rahu saddle towards Springs junction, but let's have a concerted effort to make the roads safer all through the coast.

The inadequacies of the inland rural road networks really showed up was in the wake of the Kaikoura earthquake. The inland road rural network just is not maintained for the work it was expected to do. The width of the tar seal in rural areas is incapable of carrying the size trucks that were expected to pass safely without clashing mirrors. Some truck roll overs were simply caused by slumping roads. 

These issues need addressing urgently for the the future of the West Coast and its residents.

Peter Langford is Federated Farmers West Coast Provincial President.