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Cable duct no secret, says Chorus

The land in Featherston, owned by South Wairarapa District Council, that features an easement over a cable duct vital to Chorus’ telecommunications infrastructure network. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

HAYLEY GASTMEIER
[email protected]

Chorus says it’s doing all it can to help the South Wairarapa District Council find a solution for land that has a vital cable duct underground.

But the company is adamant that an easement, which ensures Chorus has unrestricted access to the cables, was common knowledge.

The duct is on council-owned land at 57 Fitzherbert St, in central Featherston.

Because the duct makes up part of Chorus’ national telecommunications infrastructure network, it is protected by an easement.

The land could be built on but the cables would have to be accessible, Chorus stakeholder communications manager Gerard Linstrom said during a visit to the site last week.

“If the council sold this land, could they build on it? Yes, but if anything happens and there’s a major issue like water gets into the duct line . . . we’d need to dig down to repair it and you’d need a digger.”

The duct features fibre optic and copper cables that run from a manhole on the footpath, under an overgrown asphalt path, and into the telecom exchange building on Fox St.

The council gained the section in a land swap with Trust House in 2013, after the trust had difficulties with resource consent to build its new Super Value supermarket on the site.

Both the council and Trust House have denied having knowledge of the cables when the swap took place.

The council discovered the easement late last year and, as a result, developers Marcus Darley and Neil McLachlan walked away from a project that would have seen a substantial retail hub built in the heart of Featherston.

However, many residents in Featherston say they knew about the cable duct, and Chorus agrees it was no secret.

Linstrom said the original network cables and ducting under the land were installed in the early 1970s.

“The original easement document [from 1991] mentions ducts and fibre optic cable as well as copper cables and electrical signals.

“This should have been sufficient to alert someone to the fact that Chorus had cables in the ground that might need to be investigated prior to making any decisions about future use of the land.

“The original plan [dated 1991] showing the easements refers to the easements as: ROW [right of way], sewage and stormwater drainage, and cable ducts.

“Again, this should have alerted someone to the fact that Chorus had ducts and cables in the ground that might need to be investigated prior to making any decisions about future use of the land.”

The easement has never been built on and was once a service lane between the post office building and Chungs supermarket, which have both since been demolished.

Linstrom said the council basically had two options.

It could spend an estimated $80,000 to re-route the cables to the right of the manhole, down the side of the town square boundary, and then left, back into the telecom exchange building.

He said that would not be straightforward as fibre optic cable did not like to be bent, thus the reason for the high price, which was quoted by engineers.

The other option was to build a development on either side of the easement, which could be covered in a boardwalk, giving Chorus easier access to repair or replace the cables underground.

Linstrom said the Featherston duct was Chorus’ main trunk line between Wellington and Masterton,

The duct will need to be accessed soon for the planned Ultra-Fast Broadband rollout in Featherston.

Chorus stakeholder communications manager Jo Seddon said the company was more than happy to talk through the options with potential developers of the land.

She said the cables were a “lifeline”, providing telephone and internet to local households.

It was about retaining these services, while also giving the community an outcome on the council-owned land that it could be proud of.

“Featherston people have waited a long time to get this piece of land sorted out.

“We’re trying to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

Councillors will discuss the land and options at an extraordinary meeting on November 21.

Chorus have offered to attend to answer any questions that may arise.

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