Budget warning on quake upgrades

Last updated 13:00 25/02/2014

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Warning signs on three Maitai River footbridges that they are a potential high risk in an earthquake are the latest to go up in Nelson with more to come, along with a financial shock.

The signs on the footbridges stating: "People using this bridge are advised that an initial seismic assessment indicates that this bridge is potentially earthquake prone and poses a potential high risk in the event of an earthquake" went up on Friday. However, already some of the signs have disappeared.

The public can expect more such warnings as the council works its way through assessing about 100 building and 40 other facilities such as toilets, sheds and bridges it owns for earthquake risk.

Nelson city mayor Rachel Reese also warned today that the council has no money set aside for upgrading its earthquake-prone structures.

"The public needs to understand, and this is an area of concern to me, that the budgets we have inherited have no provisions for this.

"There will be some general maintenance upgrade for any building but there is no reserve budget for dealing with buildings that are found to have structural weaknesses to manage earthquake prone risks."

It was a situation facing most councils and many private property owners, and was something Nelson City Council, dealing with its long term plan next year in terms of its overall debt, would need to be mindful of in needing additional funds, she said.

It was not known how much the cost might be, and the assessment of structures was the first step in finding out what the overall cost might be, said Ms Reese.

The council has come in for criticism in closing the Trafalgar Centre because of its earthquake risk, with former mayor Aldo Miccio saying it was unnecessary and signs could be put up advising users of the risk.

Ms Reese said the warning signs that had gone up on the footbridges were an operational matter, but noted the risk factor with the Trafalgar Centre would be greater when there could be 2000 users.

A council spokesperson said the council was following the assessment process as laid out in the earthquake prone building policy, but the decision to post notices was made by the council as landlord of its buildings, and had extended that to the footbridges.

"We are not required to post these initial assessment notices under the policy; we have chosen, as landlord, to do so."

The footbridge notices advised of the risk of using the bridges in an earthquake. "There is no reason to doubt their safety for everyday use under normal circumstances."

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The signs have been put up on the footbridges by Hardy St, the Riverside Pool and off Willow Walk near the Manuka St ford. With some notices already gone, Ms Reese said it was likely more robust ones would be needed.

The warnings have not deterred pedestrians and cyclists from using the bridges.

Resident Lee-Anne Weenink, who lives in Halifax St East opposite the footbridge, said her family used it daily and would continue to.

She said the bridge shook when a big truck went by or when there were a lot of people on it. She was happy to see a sign on the bridge. "It's better to be overly cautious than have a disaster happen. At least people have the option of using a different bridge."

Visitor John Wheatley, from Nottinghamshire, England, saw it as somewhere between being responsible and overly cautious.

"Councils are having to cover themselves. Now it's all a blame game, we have the same in the UK. I expect more people get injured tripping over than from an earthquake."

Tourist Philip Eyerle, from Germany, who was crossing the bridge, said he had not lived through an earthquake but thought the council needed to be responsible.

Nick Goodman, back in Nelson on holiday, said he wasn't bothered about the risk. "I guess they're probably obliged to put them up as part of their safety programmes."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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