'Red sticker' fears for tourist town

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 05:00 27/08/2012

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Tough new controls are proposed to protect residents and visitors against earthquake risks from an Alpine Fault rupture, despite claims the move will crush Franz Josef Glacier's businesses.

Westland District Council publicly notified its intention to change its district plan on Friday to create two new zones - the Franz Josef/Waiau fault rupture avoidance zone and the general fault rupture avoidance zone.

Landowners within the zones will be allowed existing use rights but will be prevented from erecting new buildings, extending existing properties or developing new subdivisions in those areas.

But it is set to have the greatest impact on West Coast's tourist mecca, Franz Josef, which straddles New Zealand's biggest fault.

The changes were instigated after two reports by GNS Science predicted the Alpine Fault had a 20 per cent chance of rupturing in the next 30 years and was likely to move the land by 8-9 metres horizontally northwards on the Australian Plate on the west side of the fault.

"It is unlikely that any building could be built to withstand the projected rupture of up to 9 metres horizontally and up to 2m vertically. This will create costs of rebuilding, insurance, and inconvenience to the community as buildings lose their function," the council said.

Failing to respond would mean the council would not be providing for residents' health and safety or Westland's long-term future, as required under the Resource Management Act.

Franz Josef development society chairman Marcel Fekkes said the community strongly opposed the move and had asked the council to back down.

"Obviously it's not a good situation for us and being a tourist town, it's not good for these things to be highlighted as we don't want people to be scared of being here.

"We've been red-stickered."

Franz Josef is the only West Coast town built directly on top of the fault.

The zone cuts a 135m-wide swath through the town and affects about 36 properties, including the local petrol station and several hotels.

Fekkes predicted it could mean the centre of town would die.

He planned to organise a public meeting this week to develop an action plan but believed the Government should step in to compensate affected residents in the same way it had in Christchurch after the Canterbury quakes.

The general fault rupture avoidance zone had been mapped by GNS and spanned the entire length of Westland, varying in width from 20 to 200m.

"In order to manage the risk to human life and reduce effects on the long term recovery of the Westland District from an Alpine Fault earthquake event, it is necessary to restrict the types of activities that can occur within areas susceptible to fault rupture," the council said.

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However, land owners had the chance to prove to the council a more precise location of the fault on their property and associated risks.

As a result, the council would amend the avoidance zone and would allow new buildings to be erected outside that zone.

However, the fault at Franz Josef had been accurately mapped already and had more restrictive rules, which prevented land owners in that zone from seeking changes.

In its information, the council stated an earthquake on the Alpine Fault would create a number of significant processes within the Westland District.

"One such process, fault rupture, describes the predicted horizontal and vertical movement projected in an earthquake that ruptures the surface. Any building or structure affected by fault rupture is likely to suffer considerable damage. This in turn puts lives at risk," it said.

Residents will have one month to make submissions.

- The Press

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