Rethink urged on rockfall mitigation

LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 05:00 13/12/2013

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Hills and Harbour

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Port Hills homeowners battling to save their red-zoned properties have been offered a glimmer of hope by the Christchurch City Council.

The council yesterday unanimously agreed to get council staff working on identifying places where area-wide mitigation of rock roll risk might be effective and cost less than buying the red-zoned properties.

''We've heard it is possible and cost-effective to save some communities. Not all, but some,'' Cr Yani Johanson said. 

''We need to, as an organisation, be pro-active in this regard.''

In December last year, in response to repeated pleas from red-zoned residents, the previous council agreed to consider on a case-by-case basis rock protection work proposed by individual red-zoned property owners.

That process has proved more complicated than councillors had envisaged and so far the council has received and agreed to fund only two such applications.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee did not respond to requests for comment yesterday, but described the earlier decision to allow individual mitigation measures as a ''blindside'' and a ''reversal'' of the council's original position on the red-zoning.

Port Hills resident Andrew Abakhan appealed to the new council to re-think its approach and have another look at the possibility of area-wide mitigation.

Abakhan, who has been out of his Sumner home for nearly three years, said there were 17 red-zoned properties within 60 metres of his that could be saved if an area-wide approach to rockfall mitigation was taken.

By spending $1 million on rockfall protection works, the council could save $7m in property acquisition costs, he argued.

''The council can make a real difference in rescuing good quality housing while saving millions,'' Abakhan said.

As it stands the council is liable for half the net costs of red-zone property acquisitions on the Port Hills. Its total bill has been estimated at nearly $58m.

Cr Andrew Turner said the council had a responsibility to look more closely at whether it was possible and cost-effective to save more people's homes.

''We've heard from residents this morning who believe they can come up with something that works. We owe it to those people to give them an opportunity to do that,'' he said.

Sumner resident Phil Elmey, who has campaigned for rockfall protection to be allowed, told The Press the council's decision was a ''big step''.

Had it not acted, the council faced ''major legal action'' because in many cases the rockfall source was on its land.

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He told Mayor Lianne Dalziel ''urgent action'' was needed.

''I said, 'We've had no effect on [Brownlee's] decisions, we're hoping you will'. 

''It's only going to be [Dalziel] who has the political savvy to make it work,'' Elmey said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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