Fashion

A proposal to buy out flood-prone farming land at Franz Josef and move the state highway away from the Waiho River will be put before the Government.

A proposal to buy out flood-prone farming land at Franz Josef and move the state highway away from the Waiho River will be put before the Government.
The West Coast Regional Council sees the project as a longer term solution to the towns hazards than building more stopbanks. It would involve 2500 hectares of private land with a capital value of $30 million.
The Government announced on Wednesday that it would release $12m for new stopbanks along the northern banks of the flood-prone Waiho River.
About $24m was initially granted through the Governments provincial growth fund in July 2020 to upgrade both the northern and southern stopbanks, but Labour put the money on hold while it reviewed the project after last years general election. Some community members opposed the project because they were concerned by how high ongoing maintenance costs would be.
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The bridge across the Waiho River had to be rebuilt after a big flood in March 2019.
The Waiho River is building up at a rate of about 30 centimetres a year.
Flooding in the Westland town in March 2016 inundated a hotel and holiday park and forced the evacuation of 200 people.
The existing stopbank on the south side of the river and the Waiho Bridge had to be rebuilt after heavy rain in March 2019, creating an economic loss of up to $50m for the West Coast.
The regional council has said the flood wall project would buy the glacier town time to eventually migrate northwards away from the river and the Alpine Fault it perches on because stopbanks were not a long-term solution.
Franz Josef has suffered a huge downturn in its tourist industry due to the Covid-19 pandemic
Regional council operations director Randal Beal said the Government had approved $9.23m for stopbanks from the Waiho bridge to the towns sewerage ponds on the north side of the river.
The Westland District Council, the regional council and Franz Josef ratepayers would contribute another $3.07m.
The work also included some maintenance work on the south side and building gravel bunds to protect the Waiho from overflowing into the Tartare River.
Options for the second stage of the project included moving the state highway and buying out all the privately-owned land on the south side of the river. It would allow the river to naturally fan out to the south, reducing pressure on the north side, Beal said.
The Waiho River in Franz Josef is building up by about 30cm a year.
There were about five dairy farms, some grazing blocks and a few lifestyle blocks that would be affected on Waiho Flat Rd and Docherty Creek Rd.
Waiho Flat Rd property owner Anje Kremer said she would not be willing to sell up.
She had lived in Franz Josef since 1971 and believed the southern properties were higher than the northern.
She wanted authorities to use a bulldozer to train the river, allowing it to flow more quickly and straight out to sea.
Minister for Economic and Regional Development Stuart Nash says a longer term solution is needed for Franz Josef.
Economic and Regional Development Minister Stuart Nash said $12.3m for the northern stopbanks had been now been approved and would improve the resilience of the town and the state highway.
The work would take about 18 months to complete and local councils estimated it would provide up to 30 full-time jobs.
The jobs and commercial activity generated by the project will give the local economy an immediate shot in the arm as it recovers from the loss of international tourists following the global Covid-19 pandemic, Nash said.
The aim would be to protect State Highway 6 as it was a lifeline for West Coasters, as well as a world-famous tourist route.
The Waiho Bridge in Franz Josef was taken out by flood waters in March 2019.
The unrelenting forces of nature through earthquakes, floods, and extreme weather events associated with climate change mean this community needs more help than most to plan for its future.
Central government agencies, local government, iwi, businesses and the towns residents would have to be involved in longer term planning, Nash said.
We need a bigger plan to protect the town and the West Coasts vital infrastructure for decades to come.
A survey of Franz Josef residents in April 2018 found most supported either completely or partly moving their town away from natural hazards, including the river and the Alpine Fault.
West Coast Regional Council chairman Allan Birchfield said the project was critically important for Franz Josef.
Its a good first step, and now our focus turns to getting stage two, the southside, through to an approval stage.
*An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the Government had agreed to release $21.5m of funding. The second phase of the work is still being reviewed.