For eyes only, viaduct faces closure

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 05:00 01/12/2012

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The historical Percy Burn Viaduct is likely to be closed and viewed from a distance rather than walked across by trampers, the trust in charge of the maintenance and restoration work of four 1920s viaducts says.

An independent engineer's report gave the trust six months to undertake urgent remedial work but Port Craig Viaducts Charitable Trust chairman Tom Pryde confirms the money is not there to keep the Percy Burn open.

"The trust has no money. It does not have an income, so any funding would have to come from other stakeholders," Mr Pryde said. "Now is the time for anyone with an interest in saving the viaduct to step up."

Department of Conservation engineers and Southland District Council requested the independent report after they were ready to close the 125-metre-long and 36m-high viaduct, on the Hump Ridge and South Coast tracks near Tuatapere, for safety reasons.

In August, trust secretary Steve Canny said about $2.6 million was needed to restore the viaducts, with the Percy Burn in most urgent need of repair.

Mr Pryde said restricting access to the Percy Burn viaduct was not the end of the world.

"It is sad but it will still be there to enjoy with a bypass. There are many structures like the pyramids and the top of the Eiffel Tower that are restricted to pedestrians but are still great tourist attractions."

Diversion tracks would be built for trampers.

Tourism operators fear the closure would hurt their businesses.

Wairaurahiri Jet owner Joyce Kolk said the historical structure was a huge drawcard.

"If the viaducts are left to decay, it would take away some of the attraction for people coming to the region," she said. "We jet boat many people in so they can walk across the viaducts. It is also a big part of the South Coast Track and Hump Ridge Track."

Mr Pryde said the final decision rested with DOC and the council.

"We have passed the independent engineer's report to DOC and the district council engineers."

But DOC visitor assets programme manager Brian Murphy said the viaducts were not on Conservation land "so a lot will depend on the actions of the trust".

Mr Murphy said he had seen the independent report and it "did not make for good reading".

DOC was in discussions with the trust and the district council about the next step, he said.

DOC's South Coast Track passed all the viaducts and trampers' safety was the most important factor, he said.

District council area engineer Graham Jones said DOC was the leading agency on the decision to close the Percy Burn viaduct "because it has control of the South Coast Track".

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The council had read the engineer's report, confirming the Percy Burn needed major work.

"Unfortunately, because of the costs, it is most likely the viaduct will have to be closed," he said.

neil.ratley@stl.co.nz

- The Southland Times

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