Awatere Valley Rd slip showcases challenges awaiting contractors on SH1 north of Kaikoura

A digger balances on the top of the Awatere Valley Rd slip.
MARLBOROUGH DISTRICT COUNCIL

A digger balances on the top of the Awatere Valley Rd slip.

A massive slip covering a road in rural Marlborough is proving challenging to roading crews, who are using dynamite, helicopters and diggers to get it cleared.

Nine families remained isolated behind the slip, which is covering Awatere Valley Rd, a 100 kilometre stretch connecting coastal Marlborough down to Hanmer Springs.

A slip blocking Awatere Valley Rd.
SCOTT HAMMOND/FAIRFAX NZ

A slip blocking Awatere Valley Rd.

In late November, the slip and the exploits of a digger driver working to clear it received national attention when a picture emerged showing his excavator balanced precariously on the rock fall.

Since then, work has continued, but Steve Murrin, an employee of roading body Marlborough Roads, said it was proving troublesome because the unstable nature of the site made it dangerous to work on.

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A helicopter uses water to sluice loose rocks from a slip blocking Awatere Valley Rd.
SALLY SMITH

A helicopter uses water to sluice loose rocks from a slip blocking Awatere Valley Rd.

"One of our geotechnical engineers, who is very experienced and worked in Christchurch on the Port Hills and Sumner rock falls, says this slip is the most technically challenging he has seen," Murrin said.

Helicopters trailing monsoon buckets had been sluicing the slip extensively since the earthquake, dislodging loose material and allowing a remote-controlled digger to start excavating last Friday.

By Sunday, the digger had got around three-quarters of the way across the slip, but it had to be pulled out after material started falling from above, leading to more helicopters being called in to resume sluicing.

"We called in helicopters to sluice again, which uncovered four huge boulders that were in a very dangerous position," Murrin said.

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"We managed to dislodge two of these, but the other two are proving very difficult to move.

"They each weigh in excess of 15 tonnes."

Murrin said it was difficult to know when the road would be re-opened considering the challenges facing contractors, which he said gave an indication of the work yet to come clearing State Highway 1 south to Kaikoura.

Marlborough Civil Defence was flying supplies into remote farms cut off by the slip every week, and other residents who needed assistance were encouraged to contact the Marlborough District Council.

 

 - The Marlborough Express

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