Fix channels, but not at any price

Construction under way on the Taieri contour channel flood banks. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
Construction under way on the Taieri contour channel flood banks. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
Is flood prevention work on the Taieri the right work, Colin Scurr asks.

The Otago Regional Council’s long-term plan is an example of how far divorced it is from the Taieri flood and drainage scheme’s ratepayers.

We see the current work on the contour channel flood banks being to a standard that would keep back the much larger Taieri River at Outram. The contour channel is just a watercourse catching the streams off the Maungatuas and flowing along the contour and doesn’t need wide substantial banks for flood prevention.

The new bridge being installed over the contour channel is to a highway 50-tonne standard but is for use by farm traffic only.

The excessive cost of this project will not appear as bad as it could have if it wasn’t for central government paying half through its "shovel ready" climate funding.

The alarming thing is that the council wants to spend another $8.8 million on the upper reaches of this channel. This section would have low economic or social impact if it breaks. A few hundred hectares of farmland flooded for a few days and no impact on Dunedin Airport.

The recent Tonkin + Taylor flood risk report does not give any reason to spend greatly in this area. The report indicated two risk sections of the bank which have seepage, but this has been occurring for 20 years with no breaking.

Sure, the landowners would like these fixed but not for $8.8m.

This is not the only capital expenditure planned that is excessive. Surely the repeated request for a ratepayers’ liaison committee should be heeded, so as to line up expenditure with ratepayer requirements.

No rate rises in the first year of the plan (2024-25) hides a lot. Only half of the budgeted spending on the flood scheme will come in each year as rates. The rest will be borrowed.

At the end of the 10-year plan we are given debt figures of $21.5m for the Lower Taieri flood scheme, $6.6m for the West Taieri drainage scheme and $5.6m for the East Taieri drainage scheme.

Another view of the work being done on the contour channel flood banks.
Another view of the work being done on the contour channel flood banks.
Spreading capital spending over 30 years is OK as long as it is not taken as an open cheque book with no thought of those that will be around in 10 years-plus time to pay. All this comes on top of 11%-13% annual rate rises well into the future.

We also are presented with new rating classifications for the schemes. The old one didn’t reflect benefit of the scheme accurately and has had requests to be updated. The proposed rating classification spreads rate take evenly over the collection area, which saves the ORC working out who benefits.

Surely that is what targeting a rate should mean — a greater rate for a greater benefit. This needs to be a first step to correct the rate collection for Taieri flood and drainage.

Although the rate take is not changing this coming year for the flood and drainage schemes and hence the average rate won’t be changing, there are major movements in individual rate bills. There are a number who will have rate rises in excess of $5000 for 2024-25 and others over $10,000.

Taieri ratepayers should look up the rate calculator on the council’s web page to find what they will be paying next year.

Taieri ratepayers will now be paying a targeted rate for the Leith flood work as indicated in the long-term plan. This scheme has a $12.6m deficit, which we will also have to fund. Middlemarch has its own flooding problem without funding a targeted rate for the Leith. Will Dunedin City ratepayers be asked to pay off the future debt of the Taieri schemes?

The wordy long-term plan consultation document doesn’t give much factual information. You need to dig deeper. I would urge you to attend the information sessions, ask your councillor questions, read the relevant parts of the full long-term plan and make a submission on the LTP.

If the Lower Taieri flood scheme is to be protected to an urban protection standard then the land should be opened up for urban development as farming cannot survive with this cost.

— Colin Scurr is a Taieri farmer and former Otago regional councillor.