Call for commitment, action on flood defences

A tree beside a floodbank for the Waipori River near State Highway 1 will need to be extracted....
A tree beside a floodbank for the Waipori River near State Highway 1 will need to be extracted. PHOTO: OTAGO REGIONAL COUNCIL
Residents on the Taieri Plain need a firm commitment from the Otago Regional Council maintaining flood defences is a top priority and that it is backing this up with immediate action, a community advocate says.

Mosgiel-Taieri Community Board chairman Andrew Simms said he was promised last year there would be "diggers on the ground this summer" to work on the Silver Stream.

"To date the only diggers observed on the ground are those working on the new Otago Regional Council $52 million headquarters in Maclaggan St," he said.

Mr Simms said it was not clear to the community the regional council had its priorities in order, and the Silver Stream was an example where an obvious problem had been allowed to linger.

He was also perplexed by the council’s low-key reaction to a recent report that showed an extreme deluge would cause widespread failure of the lower Taieri floodbanks network.

The Tonkin + Taylor report identified two sections of floodbank at extreme risk of failure in a massive flood, and issues such as trees affecting floodbanks.

The council has said the assessment did not "significantly change our understanding of risk", but it would help determine priorities for work and refine ongoing work.

Tree removal was one response that could be "actioned" quickly.

Mr Simms said he was not reassured by a presentation from council staff at a community board meeting last week.

At the board meeting, Mr Simms highlighted a partial blockage of the Silver Stream channel present since 2018 and said he raised such matters with the council in May last year, but got no response.

Asked about this by the Otago Daily Times, council engineering manager Michelle Mifflin said staff had been developing a programme of works to "address restoration of the Silver Stream".

Staff had not responded directly in writing to Mr Simms, but he had been updated about proposed works when staff met him in June last year, she said.

Mr Simms said he was worried about the adequacy of a $300,000 annual budget and project completion being "many years" away.

At the June meeting, council operations general manager Gavin Palmer assured him there would be "diggers on the ground this summer", Mr Simms said.

The phrase was verbatim, he said.

The ODT asked the council if it had made such a commitment.

Ms Mifflin said the council would be "addressing some sections of the Silver Stream this year".

Asked if the diggers had appeared yet, or if they would by the end of summer, Ms Mifflin said "we are looking to address the area of concern", including Dunedin City Council land, in the coming weeks.

Asked for clarity about whether it had backed out of previous commitments, the council provided no further comment.

Ms Mifflin said the council was removing vegetation regularly across the floodbank scheme.

A tree beside the Waipori River floodbank would be removed methodically to ensure there was not increased risk to the floodbank.

Once an issue was identified, it was prudent to investigate and plan remedial action, she said.

Mr Simms said a public meeting could be held next month and he hoped regional council staff would participate.

"I want these flood protection assets to be maintained to the maximum level they can be," he said.

"There seems to be a real lack of willingness to deal with those issues with the urgency the community expects."