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Could Christmas come early?

Trinity Shaw’s daughter enjoying Christmas at Te Awaiti campsite. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Christmas camping holidays on the south coast could be back on the cards at two sites threatened with closure as a dispute with South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] inches towards resolution.

Popular campsites at Te Awaiti and North Tora were closed at short notice by SWDC chief executive Harry Wilson, citing the risk of flooding in severe weather events.

Wilson said fast-rising floodwaters could result in loss of life in extreme cases. He subsequently temporarily reopened the sites before Labour weekend due in part to a good weather forecast.

The Martinborough Community Board [MCB] had also proposed strategies to SWDC to reduce the risk, including internet connectivity, which assisted in deciding to open the sites
for the holiday weekend.

Now, after a MCB meeting, campers are hopeful a long-term workable risk mitigation plan can be adopted before the upcoming summer holidays, which would allow the sites to be open for Christmas. They would also be able to stay open and operate safely indefinitely.

SWDC group manager partnerships and operations Stefan Corbett has became the council spokesperson on the issue. He presented a report on the matter to the MCB, which confirmed modelling from Greater Wellington regional Council [GWRC] that showed dangerous inundation levels in a one in a 100-year flood event.

In addition, the report said warning systems were absent, floods could happen quickly, the sites were remote and inaccessible for emergency services, and no cell phone coverage was available.

The report said discussions had continued with MCB to explore permanent solutions to the problem.

The main elements of suggested fixes were; large signs at the sites warning people about flooding in significant weather events, installing an internet hot spot allowing campers to access weather information and warnings, and temporary closure of the areas when a major weather event threatened. Supplementing this was the additional possibility of local emergency services visiting the site to advise people to move to safer ground in the case of a Met Service or Niwa alert.

After the meeting, Corbett confirmed SWDC continued to co-operate with the MCB to find ways to fix the problem.

“We are working with the Martinborough Community Board and other parties to try and identify an enduring solution that keeps the public safe and the campsites open. Our aim is to try and land this before Christmas, but that is on a best-endeavours basis,” he said.

MCB deputy chairman Aidan Ellims was encouraged by the progress made.

“There is still work to do, but we are hopeful a solution can be found. There are still a few pieces of the puzzle to put in place, but we are optimistic the process will be complete before Christmas. We will be keeping people in the loop as things progress and when a decision has been made,” he said.

Martinborough resident Trinity Shaw has been camping at the sites for more than 40 years. She has followed the developments closely, including arranging a petition to prevent the closure, which got more than 1500 signatures.

Shaw thought discussions at the MCB meeting showed progress.

“He’s doing all the things that should have been done before any of this even started,’ she said of Corbett.

“I’m pleased to see Stefan has done research. He’s contacted DOC to find out what they do in similar circumstances. It’s an obvious thing to do because they deal with situations like this all the time,” she said, saying they deal with similar risks by using signage.

Shaw was cautiously optimistic the campsites would remain open, and a decision would be made before the holidays.

“Stefan has been working with all the right people, DOC, GWRC and with Aidan [Ellims] about mitigation options. So I’m quite hopeful they are going to come to a good solution.

“It’s looking like it will. I hope so,” she said.

She said many of the weather events described in the flood risk were general events that would affect the whole region.

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