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Council’s lengthening tail of cyclone costs

Carterton Mayor Ron Mark says the cost of repairing infrastructure following severe weather events is “untenable” for small councils, and the impact is “likely to be felt for decades to come”.

As a result, Mark says, councils will need central government support to ensure the resilience of local infrastructure and people.

The mayor’s comments come after a visit to Carterton on Monday from Rural Communities Minister Mark Patterson, who was keen to discuss Wairarapa’s recovery efforts in response to Cyclone Gabrielle and other North Island weather events [NIWE].

The minister met with Wairarapa’s three mayors, iwi, the Wairarapa Recovery Office, Wairarapa MP Mike Butterick, Federated Farmers, Fenz, Rural Support Trust, and advocates of affected residents.

Patterson had an open discussion with Wairarapa residents and spoke about the opportunities available to rural communities through the Regional Infrastructure Fund for water storage, irrigation, and flood protection.

“Local knowledge is extremely important, and what I’m hearing is that the enormity of what’s still left to do for farmers regarding the clean-up from Cyclone Gabrielle, and the financial shortfalls, are really starting to sink in,” Patterson said.

“I’m a sheep and beef farmer myself, so I understand the frustrations farmers are feeling.”

Patterson welcomed ongoing, frank discussions about the challenges faced by the rural sector, saying “our door is always open”.

Mark said the visit was a great opportunity to “voice our region’s concerns to ensure we’re not left behind”.

“It was fantastic for Wairarapa to have a minister from central government come to our region and speak directly with our communities to understand their needs,” he said.

“There’s a lot of support we’re going to need – now and in the future – to ensure the resilience of both our infrastructure and our people.

“The costs around repairing our infrastructure, particularly for our roading, are untenable for small populations such as ours, and are likely to be felt for decades to come.”

Among the concerns discussed were the financial pressures on farming communities, mental health impacts, accessibility to water, unrepaired fencing, silt build-up reducing water storage, unusable rural tracks, insurance coverage falling short of covering damages, and the long-term impacts on roading.

Residents also expressed general concerns around ongoing fire risks for farming properties, flood protection, an increase in land used for forestry, and a lack of rural cellphone coverage.

Wairarapa Recovery Programme manager Simon Taylor said that while Wairarapa was not hit as hard by NIWE as other parts of the country, the region suffered some serious impacts in remote areas, with some residents still displaced, and whole communities remaining semi-isolated.

“We’re working together on behalf of the Wairarapa region to expand our recovery capability and ongoing resilience, while continuing to support those adversely impacted by last year’s events,” Taylor said.

“Part of the recovery process is understanding and helping to mitigate some of the wider impacts on our communities and local economy.

“Today’s visit was a great opportunity for the Minister to talk directly to those affected along with those supporting them.”

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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