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Motueka residents provide feedback on the river stopbank proposals

April 20th, 2010
By David Armstrong

Residents of Motueka, Riwaka and other villages near the Motueka River have been attending meetings held by the Tasman District Council's consultants to tell the council what they think of proposals to upgrade the river's stopbanks.

Three meetings have been held so far as well as a stand at the last two Sunday Markets, and one further meeting will be held on Thursday evening at Brooklyn School Hall. Attendances have been small to moderate, but people spoken to by Motueka Online expressed wary satisfaction that they were worthwhile.

Council communication manager Chris Choat said the Sunday Market gatherings had been particularly useful as they had enabled a different mix of people to consider the issues and gather information.

The council's Ten Year Plan includes a determination of what level of risk Motueka people are prepared to accept that the river may overflow in a major flood, how much they would be prepared to pay to cut this risk, and what the effects of such a breach of the stopbanks would mean to them as individuals.

Chris Choat says the council sees this as a very important issue which needs working on promptly. Council is also determined to ensure its consultation with Motueka residents is thorough, extensive, and as much as possible without pre-judging the options.

Following the Council's first advertisements late in March asking for feedback, Motueka Online's discussion forum has posted five strongly-worded comments so far from four people. (Follow that discussion here). Discussion at the three public meetings so far has been far more muted, with a mixed level of acceptance and criticism from residents.

At the April meeting of the Community Board, John Kelly spoke during the open forum about his frustration that the council's newspaper advertisement lacked detail and really said nothing of substance that people could comment on. He said what is required is a list of viable options so that people could indicate which would be acceptable to them and which wouldn't, and how much they may cost, but the council so far was only talking in an abstract way about why stopbank upgrades are being considered and the canvass ideas about their future.

Chris Choat responded that there are so many possible components of a solution that the list would be too long and complex to permit reasonable feedback. At this stage the broad concepts are being considered, and resident feedback would help shape the debate so that more clearcut options could be identified.

"It's clear from the meetings so far, and from John's comments, that the issue is becoming less about the project itself and more about the process that Council is going about to prepare for the project," he told Motueka Online one week later.

"The comments we've been hearing are also focusing more on how to control likely floods and less on whether or not there will be floods in future."

One long-time Motueka resident who attended one of the meetings, Robert Young, said a couple of speakers expressed concerned about the long-term effects of taking gravel from the river bed to deepen the river. However, most attending had not been living in the area long enough to understand the particular nature of the river, he said, so some of the solutions offered were not particularly useful.

Robert was, in fact, involved in the original construction of the stopbank as a youngster. His major concern is the amount of excavation taking place on the stopbank right now, endangering its integrity, and he intends to raise this matter further.

"I think most of the concerns people had at the meeting were to do with how much it would all cost us as ratepayers, and the effect that lowering the river bed levels may have on the operation of existing water bores that may not be able to reach the lower water levels," he said.

Chris Choat said the next step after the Brooklyn meeting will be for the Council to prepare and disseminate a report containing all the submissions and comments at the meetings, expected to come out "within a few weeks". Then council engineers will look more closely at viable options and their costs, and put them out for public consultation again.

Comment by Mark Chapman:
[Posted 26 April 2010]

I attending the recent meeting at the Brooklyn School on the proposed "Rolls Royce" stopbank replacement programme. As with all, there seemed to be very little interest in the $20m project from the people that were ultimately going to have to pay for it.

It was of great interest that the flood that was modeled, a 1-in-100 year flood, was done so without stopbanks and the township of Motueka didn't actually get flooded! Ultimately it seemed that a lot of the debate was academic. As we all live on a flood plain it is an inherent risk that we are subjected to.

Overall I was satified that MWH had taken the feedback on from the community and will be looking at other alternatives to "protecting" Motueka from flooding. Incidentally the last flood that went through Motueka was in 1877!!

One comment that was particularly relevant was made by a ratepayer who said that the next time the Council are looking at a project like this, to get public consultation first BEFORE spending a fortune on consultants.

Again, thanks to MWH for being pragmatic and listening the the ratepayers. One might hope that the next proposal is much more affordable.

Comment by Jim Butler:
[Posted 29 April 2010]

The public presentation by MWH consultant staff on the Motueka River Stopbanks in the Motueka Bandroom on April 20th was most interesting. It was very well presented by MWH staff as part of their quarter of a million ratepayer funded contract they have received from TDC to investigate what should be done to make the Stopbanks safe.

I went to this public meeting convinced that having held against many major floods for more than 50 years, as long as the stopbanks are properly maintained, no reconstruction is required. "If it ain't broke, why fix it".

I came away from the meeting realising that some work is required. Gravel has been extracted from the river bed in places that has weakened the stopbanks. But in other places, gravel should be removed to improve the river flow. So ratepayer funded work is required to relocated some gravel within the river bed.

Secondly, the damming effect of the bridge. In flood conditions the water level on the upriver side of the Motueka Bridge is about half a metre above the downriver side. Putting a lot of pressure on the stopbanks above the bridge. What is needed is a new bridge with large spans that would be funded by road user charges.

My fear is that having spent or committed over one million dollars of ratepayers money without a sod being turned, TDC will let a more expensive contract than is necessary to justify this expenditure. This will over-insure Motueka ratepayers against flooding, as most households already have insurance against flooding.

Because the Motueka area is so flat, historical records show that before the stopbanks were built, flood waters covered much of the land in the north and east of the Motueka urban area at high tide, seeping away at low tide. But flood waters did not enter buildings whose floor levels were up to half a metre above ground level and there was very little scouring.

In my opinion the north and east of Motueka's urban area is likely to be damaged far more by a storm surges at high tide, coupled with a half metre rise in sea levels. Depending on how far and fast sea levels rise, I can envisage those residents of Motueka now under 50 will, in their old age, be funding a seawall to protect the High St.

Report by David Ogilvie:
[Posted 6 May 2010, from his report to the May meeting of the Motueka Community Board]

I attended a workshop conducted by MWH on the Lower Motueka River Flood Control, also two public meetings (Motueka and Brooklyn) and I consider this is developing a “consensus” of responses and priorities. Lois Plum, Project Manager, has prepared a “Risk Register” which is both detailed and interesting. The next report, in sifting through the “Risk Register”, will demonstrate the direction MWH is following.

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