Thursday, May 19, 2022

Road access an issue after week-long rain event

One of the farms hit by the recent storms that damaged properties and rural roads across the Tairāwhiti and northern Hawke’s Bay regions received 1.2 metres of rain in a week, 700mm of which fell in a six-hour period.

The roads around Anaura Bay, between Tolaga Bay and Tokomaru Bay, needed clearing after the wild weather. Photos: Tairāwhiti Civil Defence

One of the farms hit by the recent storms that damaged properties and rural roads across the Tairāwhiti and northern Hawke’s Bay regions received 1.2 metres of rain in a week, 700mm of which fell in a six-hour period.

Dan and Tam Jex-Blake are sheep and beef farmers whose property is about 55km southwest of Gisborne, at the top of Waingake Valley.

Dan said the rain began about midday on Monday, March 21, and didn’t really let up for the next seven days, although the real damage came on the Friday, when they received 700mm of rain in six hours, accompanied by 128km/h winds.

The fourth generation of his family on the farm, he said he’s never seen rain like it there before.

Given the amount of rain, he said the farm itself hasn’t fared too badly, with access across the property the biggest issue.

Farm tracks and culverts were the worst affected, as fence lines are generally along ridges, although some areas that had been fenced for tree planting were affected.

But he’s philosophical about dealing with those challenges and is not looking for a handout.

“It’s a business risk of farming now, this is climate change, we do it knowingly, it’s part of what we do, and if we think it gets too torrid, well we change what we do,” Dan said.

“That’s just the way it works.”

One of the biggest challenges they face, and one that is felt in other parts of the region, is the damage to rural roads – farmers being able to get in and out of where they live and being able to move stock on and off-farm.

Because of a washout down the road, he said they will have to drive stock past that and set up yards beyond it, so they can truck stock from there.

Fortunately, they have had a “magic autumn” in terms of grass growth, so feed on the farm is not a problem.

Federated Farmers Gisborne/Wairoa provincial president Toby Williams said some farms were severely damaged during different stages of the week-long weather event, including in the hills behind Gisborne, areas north of Wairoa like Tiniroto and Ruakituri , and the flats around Tolaga Bay.

Most farmers will deal with on-farm damage themselves although there are some who have been repairing damage from a storm in November who are back to square one.

He said one of the most pressing problems now is restoring rural road access.

“One of the biggest concerns we have at the moment is the number of roads that are closed and severely damaged,” Williams said.

“From a Federated Farmers perspective, we’re really pushing for funding to open up those rural roads so communities have access.”

He said roading contractors are doing a great job dealing with slips, but in some areas new ones are coming down as fast as others in the same place are cleared.

“Inland behind us in the Waimata Valley got really badly affected,” he said.

“I think contractors have been back up there to the same slip site to clear it three or four times.”

One contractor Williams spoke to said some roads were probably damaged beyond repair.

“Over the next few months there’s going to have to be questions asked around whether they are economic to bring back to service,” he said.

He said there was a similar situation after the Tolaga Bay floods of 2018, with a landowner and forestry crews eventually putting their own track in to replace one road.

A silver lining among those clouds has been that temperatures have stayed relatively warm, with grass continuing to grow through standing water on his own farm.

“That’s been a saving grace, but I do hold some concerns that in a month or six weeks’ time when it starts cooling down and with backlogs at the works, are people going to be able to get enough stock away or find another home for stock?” he asked.

He said there was significant flooding on flat land around Tolaga Bay, with crops and low-lying fences washed away or damaged.

That land traditionally takes winter lambs and is now less likely to be available in the timeframe that it normally would.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said although farmers were generally able to move stock and avoid losses, the regions are going to be challenged for some time by damage to roads.

He said the timing is tough for growers who had autumn crops for harvest.

O’Connor has asked MPI officials to keep him briefed on the recovery, and said adverse event funding announced by the Government will help bring rural communities together.

He said climate change is going to challenge rural NZ as weather events increase in frequency and severity.

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