7 Mar 2018

Golden Bay residents demand more action

11:48 am on 7 March 2018

Golden Bay residents, who had their only road cut off by damage from last month's storm, are demanding that the government step up to help their plight.

Golden Bay residents at a meeting to discuss damage caused by Cyclone Gita.

Golden Bay residents at a meeting to discuss damage caused by Cyclone Gita. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

A recent survey of local businesses shows that the Takaka Hill - currently severely restricted to traffic because of damage from slips - is vital to the local economy.

More than 20 percent of the 84 businesses that responded report between 76 and 100 percent decline in business.

At least one has shut down and others are laying off staff.

About 150 people from mainly the tourism sector attended a meeting in Takaka last night to figure out some next steps.

The Nelson Regional Development Agency said tourism made up about 20 percent of the Golden Bay economy.

Restricted road access in and out of Takaka has had a dramatic impact on the cashflows of all businesses.

While the tourism sector drove last night's meeting, many others spoke up including from the rural, retail and health sectors.

Takaka Hill slips

Slips on Takaka Hill following Cyclone Gita. Photo: RNZ/ Conan Young

Retailer Tracey Brignole said it has been really tough.

"So trade's down about 80 per cent on average. It's winter trade, if not a little quieter."

The transport agency's Frank Porter fronted up to some curly questions about progress on fixing the road that in parts has vanished.

"The Takaka Hill is causing us all sorts of problems. It's really fragile and we're lucky to have it open at all and we're working to make it more resilient all the time.

"We understand the issues that the local people are facing so we've got priorities with freight, and with travel for businesses."

He said there was huge relief when it turned out the damage was not as bad as they first thought.

"Oh, there were a lot of 'oh no' moments, absolutely. We didn't even know if we had a road under that slip material and the guys have worked incredibly hard shifting that material in pretty difficult conditions. So we were delighted to be able to get that access in when we did."

Mr Porter said he could not yet put a figure on the repair cost but it will run into the millions of dollars.

While tourism businesses want the road open for longer, a member of the heavy freight industry wants it shut for longer.

Merv Solly heads a local trucking firm and said this would get the road fixed faster.

Large truck and trailer units cannot fit through the narrow lanes around the bends.

"The people of Golden Bay - they are getting into a bigger mess every day because freight is piling up at both ends."

Golden Bay residents at a meeting to discuss the ongoing repairs to damage caused by Cyclone Gita.

Golden Bay residents at a meeting to discuss the ongoing repairs to damage caused by Cyclone Gita. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Mr Solly said it was twice the price to send freight by sea. His trucks are also hauling the material off the Takaka Hill and said volumes have halved since the road was partially opened, because when it was open road repairs come to a halt.

Nelson lawyer Sue Grey convened the meeting. She said she was there to try and help the community get some solutions to preserve a community that "desperately needed help" from the government.

She said the meeting highlighted how hard it was to find the right information.

Eighty-three percent in the business survey said they did not know where to go for financial advice or help.

"We've been unable to source a one-page summary of what is available; from where and how you access it, and I would have thought that was a pretty simple thing that that government could do, because this won't be the last time there's going to be a road washed out, an earthquake or a flood or what else."

But Andrew Lamason from the Department of Conservation in Golden Bay said there was a flip-side to this season's warm summer.

This time last year he was up to his armpits in yet another whale stranding in the bay, when hundreds of people drove over the Takaka Hill to help out.

"The last thing I need is a whale stranding - that would really put a spanner in the works. So far the water's been really warm and the whales have kept further offshore and more down towards the West Coast."

Frank Porter said the transport agency was hoping the road would be open for longer for Easter holiday traffic.

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