'Lethal combination' at Sounds forestry sites

CATHIE BELL
Last updated 08:16 04/07/2014
storm at Easter
SMASHED APART: A failed skid site in the Marlborough Sounds after the big storm at Easter.

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A forest harvesting site in the Marlborough Sounds was wiped out by a huge storm, depositing piles of logs on beaches, a Marlborough District Council report says.

It showed the Marlborough Sounds was not the best place for forestry, with the combination of steep slopes, unstable geology, and high rainfall "a lethal combination", council environment committee chairman Peter Jerram said yesterday.

Jerram said a report considered by the committee at its last meeting looked at the effect of the intense pre-Easter storm on a forestry block in the outer Marlborough Sounds where a beach was left covered by logs.

The area was hit by severe rainstorms as the tail end of Cyclone Ita swept through on the Thursday before Easter, with a council rain gauge 10 kilometres west of the affected forestry block recording 182mm in 24 hours, the highest rainfall since records began there 20 years ago. Some skid sites on the block failed, causing large slips and soil loss, despite being constructed to required standards.

"This is what can happen in a well-managed and well-maintained forestry block and it shows that even a good operator cannot protect the environment from damage in this kind of weather. It's a big lesson for everyone doing business in the Sounds," Jerram said.

With weather forecasters predicting more such high-density rainstorms, the industry and the regulators must face up to the fact that the Sounds environment was unsuitable for some industries, he said.

"This is just one example of what can happen even when a company is complying with all its resource consent conditions and meeting the industry's best-practice standards. This should not be interpreted as a criticism of this company but it is a very clear message to us all that the Sounds environment is fragile and that it is not the best place for forestry.

The council was reviewing its resource management documents, including the Marlborough Sounds Resource Management Plan.

However, Jerram said there was no intention to introduce tough measures to restrict forestry plantings. Rather, the report had been considered in public-excluded parts of council meetings and he wanted to ensure people were aware of the issue.

The council had statutory responsibilities for soil and water conservation, he said.

Sounds residents had been surveyed last year, in what Jerram says was the "best responded-to survey" the council had ever run, and 84 per cent of people wanted stricter controls on forestry in the Sounds.

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"The council is signalling that it should be carefully considered where that forestry goes."

Ron Sutherland, a Marlborough Forestry Industry Association representative, said the Sounds produced about 10 per cent of Marlborough's logs. About three sites were being harvested at the moment.

Marlborough was one of the bigger log-producing regions in the country, with about 1.5 million cubic metres of wood produced annually, from about 3000 hectares spread around the district.

The association had not seen the council report, and did not know where the site was. It was making inquiries, he said.

It was waiting to see what changes if any the council proposed to make to planning documents that affected forestry when those documents went out for consultation, Sutherland said.

"We would be concerned about controls in the Sounds in the long run. They have to be reasonable and manageable.

"It's not just forestry, but all land uses potentially have the same effect. Massive storms can affect any sort of land use or cover."

- The Marlborough Express

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