Regional council cops blame for flooding

NEIL RATLEY AND GWYNETH HYNDMAN
Last updated 05:00 05/06/2013

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Flooding north of Te Anau has caused thousands of dollars of damage to adjacent farmland and fences that could have been avoided if Environment Southland had done its job, the Te Anau Community Board chairman says.

Alistair Jukes said the flooding was a man-made disaster and he was putting the blame for the flooding squarely on the regional council.

"It's their river and we asked them [Environment Southland] months ago to clear it but they never did," Mr Jukes said.

"They know all about the problem but they are not interested in doing anything about it."

The board had discussed the issue of clearing the Upukerora River with Environment Southland at the annual meeting of the Rivers Committee in February, he said. However, an accumulation of "rubbish", including gravel, had flowed down the river at the weekend and blocked the river at its mouth where it flowed into Lake Te Anau, he said.

The flooding had spread out over the countryside, taking out fences and making a mess, Mr Jukes said.

Felled trees and other debris had also spilled over the banks.

Mr Jukes said there had been a big buildup of gravel on the upside of the Upukerora bridge, which was the main artery through to Milford Sound.

"If that bridge got washed out when the road to Milford Sound was reopened, people won't be able to go," he said.

Sheep and beef farmer Max Slee said the flooding of the Upukerora River on Saturday had caused about $5000 of damage to his 65-hectare farm.

About 12ha had been affected with the floods wiping out fences and "buggering the road" which made the farm impossible to access without a 4x4 vehicle. He had hired three fencing contractors and two tractors to do repairs.

Gravel had built up until it was like a "mini dam" through lack of maintenance, he said.

This was the second time flooding had damaged his land and it hadn't been torrential rainfall at the weekend.

"The frustrating part for ratepayers is that there are more [Environment Southland] offices, more staff, more rates but there is less service on farms and rivers."

Environment Southland catchment manager Noel Hinton said in March they had done a survey of the whole reach of the Upukerora River from the bridge down to the lake to understand what was happening with the gravel buildup.

The area of breakout where flooding had occurred had happened downstream of protected sewage ponds and was close to the mouth of the river.

There were "issues" in the area but they had completed planning for some works and they were in the process of getting under way, he said.

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"As a result of the flooding at the weekend, we will have to reassess the situation to see if we need to take further action."

He was uncertain what felled trees and debris Mr Jukes was referring to. But he was aware that the NZ Transport Agency had an application in process for a consent to begin remedial works at the Upukerora bridge, which involved gravel extraction and channel realignment.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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