Mammoth mission to repair damage
Two years on from the Queen’s Birthday weekend floods at Tolaga Bay, The Gisborne Herald looks into the huge, and still ongoing, efforts to repair the area’s battered roading network. It’s a mammoth effort that is only now nearing completion.
Gisborne's largest recovery effort since Cyclone Bola in 1988 is expected to be completed in the next four months, and by then will have repaired more than 5000 sites across the region's roads that were battered in the 2018 Queen's Birthday weekend floods.
The floods, which happened just six days after an earlier event, directly affected 20 homes around the Tolaga Bay, Whangara and Waimata areas, as well as in Te Karaka and Ormond. The event, categorised as a “Medium Scale Adverse Event” by the Ministry for Primary Industries, also left paddocks covered with sediment and woody debris and logs.
When the rain hit on June 10, 2018 forestry debris (“slash”) left lying on steep hillsides was swept down towards the sea. However, debris was caught in bridges and trees, creating beaver dams.
When those dams burst, logs were sent through nearby roads, homes and farmland.
Data from the Insurance Council of New Zealand (ICNZ) reveal insurance claim payouts for damage caused through the June 11 and 12 floods totalled $4m.
The damage to the roading network was even greater, with a repair bill of $26m. The majority of that will be funded by the New Zealand Transport Agency.
To date, $19.6m has been spent repairing 5660 sites, with another 87 sites left to go.
Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz praised the initial response from local contractors to reopen key roads after the flood hit as incredible.
A collaborative approach among all contractors to repair sites had also focused on value for money and best practice.
“We cannot underestimate the importance of this work for our local communities and economy,” Mrs Stoltz said.
“A lot of these repair sites are in rural locations and the work has often gone unnoticed. I'm extremely proud of the progress we've made together on recovering from the devastation caused by the flood. I'd like to thank everyone who has played a part in this fantastic achievement.”
Given the magnitude of the work needed, collaboration had been a key point.
GDC journeys operations manager Donna McArthur said: “It's been fantastic to be a part of this project and see the partnerships formed make such a difference for our community.
“Our locally-based contractors have really stepped up and delivered these works with so much pride and commitment.”
Waka Kotahi-NZTA (New Zealand Transport Agency) regional transport systems manager Oliver Postings said NZTA had completed its work to repair damage on the state highways caused by the flood, which included replacing a culvert and repairing a retaining wall.
“Most of the flood damage occurred inland and on local roads, however, Waka Kotahi has contributed funding through an adjusted emergency Funding Assistance Rate of 92 percent to help the Gisborne District Council with their flood repair programme on the local roads.”
Local sites in need of repair were assessed by main contractor Downer and professional services provider GHD by the end of 2019.
“The opportunity to be of service to both the community at large, and the council, has been a privilege for Downer,” said Downer NZ operations manager Craig Shearer.
“It has allowed us to develop our own employees, with 23 of our team taking on new roles throughout the business during this period.
“The safety solutions that were developed were shared with willing sub-contractors throughout the East Coast region, in order to assist with the physical delivery of work.
“During the delivery phase, all stakeholders have enjoyed collaborative and open working relationships, which has involved complex problem-solving, programming and ultimately, the successful and safe repair of thousands of network faults.
“Working with sub-contractors has allowed local businesses the opportunity to grow, while giving Downer the opportunity to bring together various communities throughout the region”
GHD technical director Debbie Fellows said GHD's involvement had included site assessments, geotechnical investigations, design of remedial solutions and resource consenting, undertaken by two local full-time employees.
“The designs are focused on cost-effective and constructible solutions using local contractors and easily-accessible product sourced from within Tairawhiti. To streamline consenting, sites of similar location or works were bundled into single applications.
“The success and fast-paced delivery has been due to the collaborative working relationship of the asset owners, the contractor, the consulting engineers and the consenting authority.”
Forestry companies prosecuted
Following the 2018 floods, Gisborne District Council began legal proceedings against 10 forestry companies.
Juken New Zealand was the first of the companies to plead guilty and was sentenced by Judge Dwyer in November, 2019.
It was fined $152,000 and reprimanded by an Environment Court judge for its activities at Waituna Forest in Wharerata to the south of Gisborne, after storm-induced slash and debris damage to waterways last June.
In February, this year, Aratu Forestry Limited, previously Hikurangi Forest Farms Limited, was fined a total of $379,500 on two charges brought by Gisborne District Council under the Resource Management Act of discharging contaminants — forestry waste and silt — to land in circumstances that enabled it to enter water.
The company was also ordered to pay three victims a total of $125,000 reparation for emotional harm.
In February another of the companies, DNS Forest Products 2009 Limited, confirmed its guilty plea to the same charge faced by Aratu and Juken: that it discharged contaminants — forestry waste and silt — in circumstances where the material could enter water.
DNS is the consent-holder for Makere Forest, in Waimata, where Uttings Bridge was damaged by floodwaters laden with forestry waste, leading to the closure of Waimata Road, inconvenience to people north of the bridge, and considerable repair costs for the council.
After DNS's guilty plea, the council withdrew charges against three companies also operating in Makere under that same consent — A and R Logging Limited, Logic Forest Solutions, and South Pacific Forestry Holdings Limited.
Four companies maintain not guilty pleas to charges they face. P F Olsen Limited and Permanent Forests Limited have elected a judge-alone trial, which is scheduled for July 20-31, 2020 in Gisborne District Court.
Ernslaw One Limited and Timbergrow Limited have elected a jury trial — the trial has been adjourned and is awaiting allocation of new trial dates.