Monday, February 26, 2024

Weather events unrelenting in east

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Wairoa and Gisborne look to new Provincial Growth Fund as they mop after yet more heavy rain.
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Wairoa and Gisborne district farmers are crossing their fingers something comes of the much promised El Niño event this summer as they struggle to repair farms and infrastructure under continuing weather events.

Both areas were hit hard with a rainfall event that delivered over 300mm to many areas inn late November, undoing repairs put in place in the wake of the many storms that have plagued the east coast this year.

Wairoa farmer and Federated Farmers branch chair Allan Newton said the district is coming to terms with having had almost three years of continual dousing and had been hoping for a more reasonable late spring this year.

“But this weekend we had 225mm, and 100mm of that fell on Saturday night alone. All up over the past week we have had 400mm. 

“We have had more slips come through our place this time than over Gabrielle.” 

Newton farms up the Waiatai Valley and said may of the slips had fortuitously avoided going through recently repaired fences, tending to be on the higher country.

Largely a maize grower, he said this year has proven another tough one for planting after last year’s disastrously wet planting season. 

“Again, the ground was so wet this year, and at least last year we got a window to plant in. This year it was Labour weekend before we could even get on the paddocks.”

He remains sceptical about El Niño’s arrival.

“I do wonder if they have got El Niño wrong. My understanding is it’s a change in the direction the rain and wind comes from. That has not been the case.”

Wairoa mayor and farmer Craig Little said areas including eastern Wairoa, Nūhaka and Mohaka have all been hit hard again, although evacuations were not necessary this time around.

With 130 homes still uninhabitable in the district, he welcomed the new government’s announcement of a $1.2 billion Provincial Growth Fund.

“[NZ First MP and new Minister for Regional Development] Shane Jones knows us well and has probably done more for Wairoa than anyone.” 

Under the previous growth fund Wairoa received $6.1 million to revitalise business and tourism opportunities in the town.

“We are hoping to get him back up here and hoping he will understand our challenges again. 

“For us roading is a No 1 issue. Unless we are 100% funded, we simply cannot rebuild on our own.” 

He said the district has built up good expertise in road rebuilding through locally based company QRS, and any funding to increase the number of trained staff would be welcome.

Further up the coast at Tairāwhiti Gisborne, mayor Rehette Stoltz said she had an early introduction to new Minister for Emergency Management and Recovery Mark Mitchell, having to call him at 6am on a Sunday to inform him about the district’s latest emergency evacuations.

“With heavy rain warnings this month, it has meant we had 14 days where crews could not work on roading repairs on SH 2 and 35, which has really slowed down our recovery. 

“We have had two cyclones, Easter weekend weather, again in June, and multiple severe rain warnings. We are still waiting for El Niño.”

Forestry waste and slash has again bedecked the region’s beaches and Stoltz expects it could be up to a decade before the new regulations’ full effects on reducing it come into play.

Without knowing the full terms of the government’s Provincial Growth Fund, Stoltz said,  Gisborne has two key priorities demanding funding.

“State highways 2 and 35 need to be fully re-opened. Growers need to know they can get their produce out, and NZ really relies upon us for much of it also. 

“The second area is flood protection and improving the ability to withstand these events.”
She welcomed the recent good news that the region has specialist emergency equipment distributed across 19 communities. The kits provide a high degree of self-sufficiency in the wake of an event, including generators, water treatment kits, first aid kits, and hybrid solar energy units.

Developed after two years of careful analysis, the kit is intended to fit into a Hughes 500 helicopter, or the back of a ute.

“All the funds were raised for these through local effort between government, iwi, Red Cross, Te Puni Kokiri, Gisborne Honda and Trust Te Tairāwhiti, among others.

“We need our communities to be responsible for themselves in these events, and I am very proud of how we achieved this.”

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