A year on, the cleanup continues

BILL MOORE
Last updated 13:00 14/12/2012

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The Nelson region's two councils have spent millions on flood recovery work, and expect that last year's deluge will eventually jointly cost them $17 million.

Much of the work has been done but a lot remains - about two years' worth in Nelson city's case, and possibly five years in Tasman district, concentrated in Golden Bay.

"This is a rolling ball; it's going to be recovering for a long time," said Tasman District Council regulatory manager Adrian Humphries, who doubles as recovery manager.

The TDC estimates that fixing the damage will cost a total of $10.1m, including roads, other transport assets, utilities infrastructure and flood protection structures.

It spent $5.15m by the end of the financial year, and thinks that of the final total, about $6.7m should be recoverable from the Ministry of Civil Defence and insurance, with a shortfall of around $3.4m.

The Nelson City Council's estimate is $7m, with reconstruction of Cable Bay Rd taking more than $2m, and removing gravel from waterways another $1.5m. It has already shifted 16,000 cubic metres of gravel from rivers and streams.

The Cable Bay project involves dealing with 28 slips and is expected to take 18 months.

The council's recovery manager, Alec Louverdis, whose regular job is network services manager, said it had spent about $3.9m on recovery work to date, including $1.8m on stormwater, $636,000 on parks, $485,000 on roading, and $270,000 repairing Harbour Tce above Wakefield Quay.

EQC will eventually pay out more than $17m - most of it already distributed - and claims to private insurers totalled an estimated $20m.

The councils agree that the storm - unusual in that it deposited so much rainwater near the coast - left huge challenges in its wake.

"It hit the little catchments - short, steep gullies rather than the big ones," Mr Humphries said. "What you had was as if you were trying to empty a bath into a teacup, whereas normally you're emptying a bath into a swimming pool."

He said all the council's flood-affected roads had been "repaired or brought up to speed", apart from Abel Tasman Dr over Wainui Hill, which requires partial re-routing where it has slipped away. (Bird's Hill, near Takaka, is part of the state highway network and will be repaired by the NZ Transport Agency.)

Initial estimates of the cost of fixing the Totaranui Rd soared to $15m, but the job turned out to be much less challenging than it seemed.

"Nobody was more surprised than myself by the comparative ease with which we managed to do it - realistically, we thought we could be looking at up to $4m to fix it, but we got it done for less than half a million," Mr Humphries said.

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There is still work to do on improving culverts and drainage systems, and options for improvements to stormwater drainage have been put to residents in affected areas.

A lot of work had involved dealing with residents' concerns about who should be paying for flood damage repairs, Mr Humphries said.

"Regardless of the fact that people own the land, they'll get an EQC payout; they'll get an insurance payout in some cases. They automatically think the council should be picking up the tab for a lot of this work, and that's never been the case.

"We can try and do it by getting people to work together, and that's worked in some areas and not others, but at the end of the day the mighty dollar is the driver for some people."

The TDC had 30 section 124 notices in the beginning. The last 13, some of which are on baches and sleepouts, are due to expire at the end of the month, meaning the dwellings should be demolished or have a repair plan in place.

Mr Humphries said the council was aware that there had been difficulties in getting the services of geotechnical engineers, and would be flexible.

He said that while there was still a lengthy list of recovery jobs, "for most of the council, it's normal jogging".

He hoped that the section 124s would all be lifted within four months and, depending on the council's spending decisions, "I would hope that [in] probably five years' time, there will be no major projects that we're intending to do that haven't been done."

There are 36 remaining section 124s in Nelson. Mr Louverdis was unable to say how much longer they will stay in place.

In relation to the city council's own works, he says it logged 800 slips of various sizes, and is not making any apologies for hold-ups in sorting out problems in locations such as Harbour Tce.

"Our approach with the recovery projects has been to undertake a thorough job, as per all our works, with respect to detailed investigations, design and consultation, and not to rush any recovery works," he said.

- The Nelson Mail

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