Monday, February 26, 2024

Hastings eyes massive Gabrielle funding shortfall

Neal Wallace
Question of who will stump up $580m to repair roads and bridges still to be settled.
Brydon Nisbet on his orchard in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, Wednesday, 7 February 2024. Photo by John Cowpland / alphapix
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The economics do not add up.

The Hastings District Council estimates it faces an $800 million bill to restore road and bridge access following Cyclone Gabrielle, of which the government has provided $228m.

Council Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said the question of who will fund the $582m balance is still be negotiated with the government, but she warns that it is beyond the council.

It still has to fund the removal of a further 1.2 million cubic metres of silt, in addition to the 1.4 million cu m already shifted, and repair another 300 slips.

Council contracts have been let for the replacement of four bridges and it has started the process of buying out 165 damaged properties.

Hawke’s Bay regional councillor and Waipukurau farmer Will Foley said recovery costs are overwhelming some councils, and this highlights the need for change in how councils are funded.

The cyclone is a reminder to rural communities of the need to be prepared for weather-induced disruption to roads, bridges, electricity supply and telecommunications.

“It’s brought rural communities a lot closer together and they will be a lot better prepared with what they need to have, need to know and need to do,” he said

Foley said while recovery is not complete, there has been progress.

“In the first couple of days post cyclone, we were wondering how we were ever going to recover.

“Look now and while there is a still a massive amount of work still to be done, everyone is surprised by what has been achieved so far.”

A review of the Civil Defence response is underway and Foley hopes one finding will be that the storage of emergency resources will no longer be centralised but dispersed among communities.

Persistent wet weather since the cyclone means farmers have been busy this summer with delayed repairs and there has been universal relief the forecast El Niño weather pattern has not caused a drought.

“Farmers are mentally stressed by the cyclone and general farming sentiment so thank God summer has been a bit more favourable,” he said.

Hawke’s Bay Fruit Growers chair Brydon Nisbet said growers were surprised at how trees survived the storm deluge, and subsequent favourable growing conditions have created an excellent crop.

“We’ve got a good crop. What we need know are good returns to growers,” he said.

Despite that, hundreds of thousands of trees need replacing and it could be three years before sufficient new seedlings are propagated.

Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Nadine Tunley is urging the government to press ahead with plans to meet councils and communities to determine requirements and to make good on a pledge to use additional Orders in Council to speed up cyclone and flood recovery efforts.

“The industry and the communities across these regions have made remarkable progress but more help is needed.”

Tunley wants as a priority the protection of highly productive land for primary production and a whole-of-catchment approach to flood protection and water use for primary production.

“This approach would see more bush on hill country, fewer houses in flood-prone valleys, and more water storage throughout the catchment,” she said.

Wairoamayor CraigLittle said parts of the town are still in a state of disrepair, yet for $6m, the 100 still-uninhabitable homes could be repaired and residents able to return.

Adding insult to injury is the discovery that $13m raised in a special Cyclone Gabrielle lottery held last year is sitting in a bank account instead of being distributed.

“That is a disgrace,” said Little.

A visit to the town by Prime Minister Christopher Luxon and senior ministers before Christmas has not yet resulted in any material benefits.

“We have got solutions but not the finance to do this stuff and councils are quickly running out of money,” he said.

Little is also perplexed by some of the repair priorities initiated by Land Transport NZ.

While communities are waiting for basic services to be restored, LTNZ is demolishing the damaged Waikare Bridge on State Highway 2 and is considering replacing it with a 160m over-pass and 4km realignment.

Little said this will extend disruption for the community.

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