Floods still threaten Nelson farms

TRAUMATIC: Glen farmer Warwick King surveys his flooded farm in December 2011.
TRAUMATIC: Glen farmer Warwick King surveys his flooded farm in December 2011.

Frustrated farmers on low-lying land near Nelson city fear that their livelihoods are at risk from bureaucratic delays to flood protection work.

Several farmers from the Glen and Wakapuaka made a plea for help at the Nelson City Council annual plan hearings yesterday, outlining the extensive damage to their properties from the 2011 floods and their fears of further damage if drainage work is not done.

Water from the Glen, Wakapuaka's Hillwood Stream and Todd Valley catchment areas flows through drains across the farmers' land out to sea, but the drains need to be cleaned regularly to keep the water flowing.

Warwick King, Les Hollyman, Jan Gillanders and Andrew Newton told councillors their farms were hit hard by the December 2011 floods. King and Hollyman said they lost around $250,000.

Newton said that although the flood was an exceptional event, having the drains cleaned out would have helped to limit the damage.

King and Hollyman spoke of the "massive amount of trauma" they faced in the floods' aftermath. Hollyman had to move his grazing stock to Canterbury, eventually selling it at a loss.

Gillanders said the drains had been neglected before the floods and were still not up to standard.

She said farmers were worried that if something was not done to clear the drains and create better infrastructure, they could face more flooding and further stress.

A 40-year-old fund set up under the former Wakapuaka Drainage Board paid for drainage work in the area, with contributions from rates in the Glen area. Farmers previously used the money to hire a contractor to clean the drains.

The council later took over the fund's administration and allocated about $5000 to $6000 for a contractor to carry out the cleaning work.

Last year the farmers said they were sanctioned by council staff to contract someone to do the maintenance work. Once it was under way, however, they were visited by a council officer who threatened them with prosecution unless they stopped the work, as the hand-dug drains were now considered natural waterways and needed resource consent.

The farmers said nothing had been done since then.

"[The council] took over responsibility of the drains, and they were going to issue themselves a resource consent to do the job, and then they have not done it," Hollyman said.

Hollyman told council chief executive Clare Hadley yesterday that there were problems with how council staff communicated.

He asked if the council was going to foot the bill if his land suffered more flood damage because of the poor infrastructure.

The farmers asked what they were getting for their rates. Hollyman said he paid approximately $30,000 a year for two rural properties, but on his and Gillanders' land in the Wakapuaka area there were no dwellings, sewerage, rubbish collection, or household water connections.

Gillanders said the farmers felt marginalised by the council, as the rates had not come back to them by supporting infrastructure running into their land.

The farmers said that when their land was healthy and green, it was a beautiful asset to the region, but it needed the infrastructure to support it.

Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese said she understood the trauma the farmers had been through with the December 2011 floods.

"What their submission highlights is that good flood protection is really important not just for people living in residential areas, but also our people running businesses on rural land and for our farming community."

Reese said investments had been made in the Wakapuaka area by the Cawthron Institute and other organisations as part of the Glen agriculture development, so it was important to ensure that there was appropriate flood protection for the area.

A council spokeswoman said today the council recognised the special nature of the Wakapuaka flats and the area's historical issues.

She said there had been a misunderstanding with a landowner last year about which sections of a drain were to be cleaned, "resulting in work being carried out on council property without a resource consent. We are now in the process of obtaining the necessary consents for clearing all drains on these flats".

The council also had spending identified in the next Long Term Plan for an investigation into a more enduring option for stormwater disposal from the whole Wakapuaka flats area, she said.

The Nelson Mail