Rockfall mitigation a 'vain hope'

LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 12:09 26/06/2014
Lianne Dalziel
Stacy Squires/Fairfax NZ
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A new report on mitigating rockfall risk on the Port Hills confirms it is feasible in five areas but not financially viable.

Speaking at this morning's council meeting, Mayor Lianne Dalziel said the council needed to decide if it would pay for this mitigation because dragging the issue out was unfair to homeowners.

Last month councillors received a report that said the small number of properties that would benefit, coupled with the high costs of such mitigation work, made it an "unattractive and largely unaffordable" option.

Port Hills red-zoners Andrew Abakhan and Phil Elmey, however, claimed the report was flawed.

Councillors decided they needed more information before they accepted the recommendation to not pursue area-wide mitigation any further.

That additional information was provided to councillors this morning in a new report by Port Hills programme manager Peter Doolin.

The report said while there were five areas where area-wide mitigation was technically feasible, none of them met the minimum threshold to establish financial viability. 

That had been confirmed by an independent peer review the council commissioned in the wake of claims it had over-estimated the costs of area-wide rockfall protection work. Golder Associates conducted the review and concluded the council had actually under-estimated the costs.

"There are significant risks associated with failure of rockfall protection fences which argue against council being involved with the same," Doolin pointed out in the report.

"There are also policy inconsistencies between the policy direction of the District Plan, to reduce exposure to natural hazards, and the promotion of area-wide mitigation by council."

Elmey told councillors this morning they were still unhappy with the report and did not believe it had been properly peer reviewed.  

It was based on the assumption neither bare land nor Crown-owned land could be incorporated into any area-wide mitigation scheme, which left that option "dead in the water''.

Elmey said it felt like the council was being an adversary to those trying to stay in their homes when it should be trying to help them.

"I don't feel like anyone other than the Human Rights Commission and [Labour MP] Ruth Dyson is actually on our side," he said.

"We have two months until the red-zone offer runs out. My family and I would like some sort of certainty around what is going to happen because we just don't know. The only certain option is to take the red-zone offer and for us that is simply not an option.''

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Council chief planning officer Michael Theelen said if Crown-owned properties were added into the equation, it would make area-wide mitigation more affordable. However Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee had made it clear he was not willing to let that happen.

"The opportunity to benefit a large number of properties has eroded as people have decided to avail themselves of the red-zone offer,'' said Theelen.

Dalziel moved the council to accept the staff's recommendation but the motion was lost on a seven-seven vote. Councillors are now waiting on another report from staff, which may come back later this afternoon.

"What I've heard is there are people out there who are waiting for something that is a vain hope. I don't think there is any hope that the Government will change its position on this and it is unfair to continue for another report that will change nothing,'' Dalziel said.

- The Press

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