Mobile sawmill ‘key to housing’
Investment in a portable sawmill by Hikurangi Enterprises will open doors to housing on the East Coast, the group says.
Hikurangi Enterprises is one of a group of entities dedicated to regional economic development on the East Coast.
Hikurangi Enterprises director Panapa Ehau said that was the reason behind the decision to buy the WPF portable sawmill, now based in Ruatorea.
“Hikurangi Enterprises was set up for the purpose of building and supporting commercial enterprises that create jobs and economic development in the Waiapu Valley and wider East Coast.
“One of the largest barriers to this is access to affordable and healthy housing. This is a key need that requires attention.”
The story behind the purchase of the mill goes back to when Panapa was working as a tutor for EIT Tairawhiti. He set up the popular earth-building courses that have been running for four years.
“Using local and natural resources we have been developing affordable, accessible and healthy housing solutions.”
Grant Steven has been the lead tutor for the course — making homes from local clay, sand and fibres such as pampas grass -—which was becoming increasingly popular.
From Northland, he brought his portable sawmill to mill timber from local trees for the framing of the earth houses.
“When we first started there were a couple of earth houses around Ruatorea and the 10sqm buildings that were built on the courses have further normalised this type of construction. Now there are around five.
“We have been educating people that we can build out of natural resources like our ancestors did only a few generations ago.”
Panapa said having a sawmill meant they could mill their own timber.
“Whanau have trees planted on whanau land 80 to 100 years ago that are ready for milling.”
Housing conditions up the coast were bad, he said.
“No Government has done much to help this situation but the reality is isolated communities need to develop and lead solutions.”
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, more people had returned home.
“We know they are coming home and know more people want to but the housing situation does not allow that. We need to develop capacity within the community.”
The new mill is now with kaitiaki (caretakers or guardians) and the community will be able to access it.
EIT Tairawhiti has agreed to provide funding from its Adult Community Education (ACE) fund for support, training people to use the mill.
The mill was bought from Peterson Sawmilling in Rotorua. A group from Ruatorea, most of them former EIT students, attended a course there and are ready to pass on the skills learned.
EIT Tairawhiti Ruatorea campus tutor Rob Thomson said the new mill would create jobs for whanau within the community.
“Timber can be used to build affordable houses on their whenua. The offcuts will be used as firewood for whanau in cold/damp living spaces.”
He said the crew of 12 from Ruatorea who went to Rotorua learned how to set up and use the sawmill, as well as the health and safety aspects of running it outside and in isolated areas.
“We are very thankful to Hikurangi Enterprises and EIT for giving us this opportunity to make this happen, and uplift our people and communities along the East Coast,” he said.
EIT Tairawhiti ACE coordinator Sue Matthews said she was rapt with the sawmill news.
“There is overwhelming interest from people wanting to learn and it is a very valuable asset for the community.
“We are trying to get more courses going especially in rural and isolated areas to bring communities together. It is really exciting.”