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No recovery solution for Kaiwhata

Cyclone Hale caused extensive damage to Kaiwhata and the region’s east coast, and Greater Wellington Regional Council [GWRC] was unable to come up with any immediate solutions to the damage caused.

As part of a discussion about the havoc wreaked by Hale at last week’s meeting of GWRC’s environment committee, catchment manager Wayne O’Donnell showed councillors drone footage of the area where river sediment remains spread across paddocks.

Now, after Cyclone Gabrielle has hit, the damage could be even worse.

A river that was once well-known for bright white rocks is now buried under debris, as are miles of fences, and farmers have been unable to make repairs because the ground is still too wet.

O’Donnell said that the damage wasw comparable to Cyclone Bola, which struck Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne–East Cape in March 1988 and resulted in farmers losing large tracts of grazing land, with thick sediment from the ebbing floods smothering pastures, orchards and crops.

One of the most damaging storms in New Zealand’s history, the government’s clean-up bill in the aftermath of Bola was more than $111 million [about $225 million in today’s money].

The Kaiwhata area was no stranger to storm damage even prior to Cyclone Hale, with three massive slips falling into the river between 2019 and 2021, leaving paddocks coated with sludge.

O’Donnell said farmers needed plenty of heavy machinery to clear out and re-sew paddocks before the winter, but farming reference group chair Barbie Barton said they were currently almost impossible to hire.

“We just don’t have enough diggers to go around for regular summer maintenance, let alone for storm maintenance,” she said.

O’Donnell acknowledged that there was not a short-term solution to the flooding problem, which is likely to recur regularly because of the level of the river bed.

“They’ve got to start thinking about other options in terms of farming there.

“Given that the government has just announced $5 million for Auckland because of the flooding”, Wairarapa representative and council deputy chair Adrienne Staples asked what GWRC was doing “with regards to talking to the central government to get some tangible help?”

Although he noted he was “not privy to the details”, O’Donnell assured the meeting “that conversation is well underway” with the Ministry of Primary Industries, the Rural Support Trust, and the Ministry for Social Development.

GWRC chair Daran Ponter observed that, due to climate change, extreme storms were going to hit more frequently.

“It’s going to make farming [in some areas] and possibly forestry, in some instances, an extremely marginal proposition,” he said.

“Isn’t this really, in the climate change environment, an issue of not so much protecting production land but actually giving rivers the room that they will increasingly need to move?”

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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