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Managed retreat on the horizon

In the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle, conversations are already underway about long-term managed retreat in Wairarapa.

The Wairarapa Committee of Greater Wellington Regional Council [GWRC] recently had a discussion about the cyclone and its aftermath, which evolved into considering how to plan for future floods and the role of managed retreat in mitigating their impacts.

GWRC General Manager of Catchment Management Wayne O’Donnell said the council’s modelling had shown that Tinui was one of the areas with the highest risk of floods.

He asked district council representatives how GWRC could improve its monitoring network and modelling to aid them in making land use decisions.

“Most of our monitoring network covers the Wairarapa Valley; it doesn’t really cover a lot of the eastern hills,” O’Donnell said.

“Because if you think about Tinui, putting some of those houses back in the valley may not be a wise move going forward.

“Relying on infrastructure such as stopbanks to protect people are decisions that need to be re-thought,” O’Donnell said.

Masterton Mayor Gary Caffell said there needed to be a discussion about managed retreat, which involved identifying areas at serious risk of extreme weather events and other disasters, and enabled people to relocate to lower-risk areas within a planned period.

GWRC chief executive Nigel Corry said while land use planning discussions were far from uncommon, the lesson from the cyclone was that there needed to be more focus on preparing for the future.

The level of damage experienced in Hawke’s Bay would eventually hit the Wellington region, mostly likely Wairarapa or the Hutt Valley, Corry said

GWRC chair Daran Ponter noted that managed retreat was a topic the council had been talking about in relation to coastal areas, but it hadn’t ever been raised with regard to rural Wairarapa before.

“Turns out, it might be the same issue in terms of big policy-type decisions collectively for the region.”

Ponter said that the councils could approach the issue on an
ad-hoc basis or proactively plan for settlement in rural areas, and suggested councils need to think about how they will broach the subject of where people can continue to live with their communities.

Carterton Mayor Ron Mark said the district councils and GWRC must begin planning for the next big weather event.

“Given that there is another cyclone gathering off the coast again, I don’t think there is time to dilly-dally on this stuff.”

“We can’t afford 20 per cent rate increases to pay for roads that are going to be smashed because other people are going to plant forests and enjoy the financial returns that they bring them.”

South Wairarapa District Council chief executive Harry Wilson noted that Cyclone Gabrielle followed on the heels of seven other recent rain events that battered the region.

“We’ve spent an absolute fortune on fixing and removing some of our roads,” he said.

“We were fortunate to have a rural road reserve; it is now zero.”

GWRC deputy chair and Wairarapa representative Adrienne Staples said successful Wairarapa communities were built on river flats because they have good soil.

She said although Wairarapa had a bigger valley than Esk Valley in Hawke’s Bay, historical photographs showed just how much rain and water flowed into the region.

It isn’t a matter of if another big weather event will come, it’s when, Staples said.

“We dodged a bullet with this; next time, we might not be so lucky.”

The committee agreed to have a workshop meeting to discuss future planning together.

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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