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Gravel cuts increase costs

The Ruamahanga River extraction site remains the main gravel provider but now provides less than previously. PHOTO/GIANINA SCHWANECKE

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Construction prices are likely to increase, warn those in the industry after the Greater Wellington Regional Council halved gravel extraction allocation from sites across Wairarapa.

Gravel extractions from across the region have dropped 51.7 per cent from a peak of 230,105m3 in 2017-2018 to just 111,072m3 for 2019-2020.

These decreases were most notable at the Tauherenikau River, Waipoua River, and eastern minor river extraction sites – the latter two where there were no extractions in 2019-2020.

The Ruamahanga River extraction site remains the main provider, dropping 29.5 per cent from 110,351m3 last year to 77,845m3 this year.

The next largest supply came from the Waiohine River extraction site which dropped 58.3 per cent from 61,056m3 last year to 25,467m3 this year.

Peter Warren, from PJ Earthmoving based in South Wairarapa, said the impact of these decreases was huge.

Most of their gravel was extracted from along the Tauherenikau River, but the reductions meant they had to find alternative sources.

“We’re restricted with the volumes of gravel we can get,” Warren said.

“They’ve basically shut it down.

“We’re still based in the same place, but we have to get from here, there, and everywhere [now].”

He said the issue wasn’t with the council but was rather with a lack of material coming from the river.

“Up until recent times, the gravel has been a big issue for the council to get it out.

“The gravel isn’t coming down the rivers because we’re not having the floods we used to.

“There’s not many sites that are good for quarrying gravel.”

It was a nationwide issue, he said, citing difficulties sourcing gravel for the Transmission Gully motorway in Wellington as an example.

It was a changing ball game for those in the industry, and one with a “scary” long-term outlook, he said.

“We have no idea of what the future holds with gravel extractions.”

He said there was potential to source from land-based sites, but this was expensive to set up.

“There may be an opportunity to find some land-based sites with paddock gravel.

“We could spend a lot of money opening up a quarry.

“But we’re still getting some gravel and if it floods, more will come down the river.”

One thing which was fairly certain was that the cost of gravel would increase.

“Because of the development in Wairarapa we’ve seen in the last year or two, there’s been a huge demand for gravel.”

Warren said he’d already raised their prices “significantly”.

Developer Steve Pilbrow, from Westwood Property Group, said it was harder and harder to find material for subdivision developments.

That has a flow-on effect – increased [gravel] prices mean section prices go up, he said.

“As a result, the costs increase across the board.”

He said it didn’t help locals that much of the gravel was being taken over the hill for Transmission Gully.

“That doesn’t help our cause either because that stretches our resources.”

A permanent quarry site, rather than relying on gravel extraction from the rivers, might be the solution, he said.

“It creates problems across the board, whether its roading or concrete.

“The metal supply is key to that.”

A GWRC spokesperson said excess gravel was extracted to assist with river management.

An over-excavation of gravel or extracting from degrading riverbeds undermined flood protection and erosion control works, bridges and other assets located near rivers.

Data from the past 30 years showed an ongoing decline in the upper catchments of Wairarapa rivers, with gravel extraction starting to exceed the natural supply being moved through the rivers.

“We have not experienced any major floods or earthquakes for some time that would contribute material from the catchment headwaters.

“There is therefore less material in the rivers that requires extraction.”

They said several companies had moved the location of their operations or to land-based sites as a result.

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