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Options clarified for community decision on river stopbanks

August 26th, 2011
[by David Armstrong]

Council engineer Gary Clark during his presentation

Tasman District Council this week brought Motueka residents up to date with analysis and planning for the three possible options still in consideration for managing the risk of flooding from the Motueka River.

Two open days and a public meeting last night were attended by fewer than 30 people in total, which disappointed local leaders and council people. Those who did attend heard how feedback from the community from similar meetings earlier this year had narrowed down the five options to three, along with grave concerns from many residents about the impact of project costs on future rates.

Last night's meeting of 12 heard a comprehensive presentation by council engineer Gary Clark of the three options - do nothing, refurbish the existing stopbanks, or build new stopbanks - and then asked questions for about an hour. Much of Gary's presentation centered on the expected costs of the options and the resulting increases in rates demands.

He said the initial plan, begun in 2009, was for a fully engineered stopbank rebuild, but cost issues had caused it to be renamed the "flood control project", which allowed other partial solutions such as gravel extraction and re-siting and catchment area maintenance to be added to the mix.

The project aim, reinforced many times through the meeting by himself and Mayor Richard Kempthorne, was to find an affordable solution to manage the risks of flooding, and to provide enough information for the community to be able to decide what level of risk and what cost it is prepared to live with - including the risk of not being able to get insurance in future.

The main factors affecting modelling and planning included the expected effects of future climate change (more rain and higher sea levels) and the fact that the existing stopbanks are more likely to fail from saturation through the bank rather than over-topping.

Rather than providing a full summary of the details of the options, we place here a link to the council's web page with these details. A summary of the August report by the project team was sent to all households in a newsletter form this month, along with the facility for making submissions to the plan. Download it here.

This writer's impression - from body language and choice of words - was that council is leaning toward the refurbishment option, the costs for which are between the "do nothing" and "new stopbanks" options, recognising that the cost of a total rebuild would not be acceptable to struggling and angry ratepayers.

Such 'reading between the lines' was reinforced by comments about the effects of floods and the attitude of insurance companies. While re-asserting that the decision will be fully up to the community, Gary Clark also said that the attitudes to flood risk depend on who you talked to.

"There are those who've never been in a major flood event who say they'd manage okay and be prepared to take the risk," he said. "But those who've been in [a big flood] who would be very happy to pay s few hundred dollars a year extra for protection." He cited the people of Golden Bay still badly affected by last year's Aorere flood.

Richard Kempthorne added that a "do nothing" option has more downsides than simply a risk of getting flooded. It may impact on the future insurability of new developments and existing buildings, given the pressure insurance companies increasingly are under after earthquakes and a growing number of flood events worldwide.

He said he had been at a meeting where an insurance company representative had said that "if communities have a stopbank problem and choose to do nothing about it, insurance companies may baulk at insuring." This could have devastating consequences on the ability of Motueka to attract new enterprises. Cr Barry Dowler spoke of the constraints on development in Greymouth for a period after their stopbank was seen to be inadequate and until the banks were built higher.

Much of the presentation and subsequent questioning centered on how much the project would cost and how it would be paid - by whom, over what period of time. The engineering model suggested the refurbishment model would cost $9.6m while the rebuild would cost $13.2m. The MWH consultant said these cost projections were conservative and he would expect that after refinement and competitive tendering they would be 20 to 25 percent lower than these estimates.

The funding model being examined by the council at present is based on a 60/30/10 split: 60% of the cost would be borne by those who would be directly affected by flooding (basically all the town and up the valley), 30% by others in the Motueka ward, and 10% by all Tasman ratepayers. This, they believe, reflects the relative benefits gained by all ratepayers of not having a flood.

The extra rates to pay for it would rise in a straight line from nothing in 2012 to a peak in 2019, and then tail off gradually over the next 14 years when it would all be paid off. Extra rates for the Motueka ward would range from $100 to $330 per year depending on which solution was chosen and direct versus indirect zones.

A related issue which was mentioned several times was how the community would be able to pay for both flood control and the planned reticulation of water to all Motueka properties. Richard Kempthorne agreed that it was unlikely that ratepayers would be able to afford both projects, and suggested that if the stopbanks were refurbished or rebuilt, and the council does not get a government subsidy for the water scheme, the reticulation project would probably not go ahead.

Asked about the decision process from here on, Richard and Gary agreed that public meeting feedback and submissions must be treated with care, as mainly those with strong opinions tend to be heard there and it is hard to really gauge the feeling of the community as a whole. Richard was adamant that community input would be enabled both through the community board as partners of council and during the Long Term Plan process.

They urged residents to make their opinions known by September 7th through the submission forms on the August newsletter.


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