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Keen to replace Patangata Bridge, but how to pay for it?

A completely new structure to replace Patangata Bridge has the backing of Wairoa district councillors but they are grappling with how to pay for it.

A routine inspection in August last year found deterioration in abutments that posed a serious threat to vehicles crossing the bridge off State Highway 2 about 19km east of Wairoa.

The bridge has since been closed to all but pedestrians and all-terrain vehicles.

Councillors on Tuesday agreed to support a recommendation to replace the bridge with a new structure capable of carrying heavy vehicles.

Whakaki Marae Trust chairman Bob Solomon said the biggest impact of the closure for tangata whenua had been access to the urupa (cemetery) about one kilometre on the other side of the bridge.

It meant kaumatua (elders) could not travel with tupapaku (the deceased) to their final resting place.

So far three tangihanga (funerals) and three unveilings had been affected, and the marae's leaders had faced strong criticism from their community over the culturally unacceptable situation, Mr Solomon said.

“We need solutions and we need solutions fast,” he told councillors at Tuesday's full council meeting.

“If that solution is going to take some time, then we need some temporary solution.”

Whakaki Lake Trust chairman Richard Brooking said the community in Whakaki were unanimous in their support for the bridge to be fixed.

He was keen to see a new bridge built off-site and shipped in, reducing the amount of time access would be cut off.

Although the bridge is on land owned by the Maori Soldiers Trust and farmed as part of Hereheretau Station, it is owned by Wairoa District Council.

Records show the bridge was built in the 1950s for flood protection work.

A report to councillors by civil engineering firm WSP shows repairing the bridge to the status quo — for vehicles weighing no more than 2.5 tonnes — would be the cheapest upfront solution at $110,000 but further maintenance would be needed in 10 to 15 years.

A new bridge for heavy vehicles, at a cost of $330,000, would not need additional maintenance for at least 40 years.

Heavy vehicle access to the area would allow for farmland development and work associated with the restoration of nearby Whakaki Lake.

Councillor Jeremy Harker said he supported building a new class 1 bridge but wanted the council to consider how those who would economically benefit from the new bridge could contribute to its cost, thereby reducing the burden on ratepayers.

The council's acting transport asset manager, Mike Hardie, said the council could reprioritise its work programme to help fund the bridge project through NZTA subsidies, although that would come at the expense of other work the NZTA funding was currently ring-fenced for.

Even with the subsidies, the council would need to come up with 25 percent of the project's cost.

Cr Harker said on Mahia Peninsula, Rocket Lab had picked up costs not covered by subsidies for work that benefited the company, but the council retained ownership of roading and was responsible for ongoing maintenance.

Councillors have asked for more information on options to pay for the new bridge, including reprioritisation of budgeted work, potential funding partners and loan funding.

That information will be presented at the next full council meeting in six weeks.

A new class 1 bridge is expected to take five months to construct.

Patangata Bridge has been closed to all but pedestrians and all-terrain vehicles since August last year. Picture by Aaron van Delden