Broken bridges taking toll on community


Is it a bridge too far? That is the question a group of Maniototo residents are asking after being left in limbo since  flooding early last year wiped out one bridge and forced the closure of two others. Shannon Thomson reports.

Shafted.

It is the word a group of Maniototo residents use to describe their feelings almost 18 months after their bridge was swept away in floodwaters.

That feeling stems from a lack of action.

The Scott Lane bridge over the Kyeburn River lost four of 13 sections of its span in flooding caused by heavy rain between January 1-4 last year.

It is one of three bridges - the other two being Bridge 145 (Halls Ford) in Maniototo Rd and Bridge 160 in Linnburn Runs Rd - closed after post-flood inspections.

The fate of all of them is yet to be decided.

A group of Maniototo residents are frustrated at a lack of answers about the future of the Scott...
A group of Maniototo residents are frustrated at a lack of answers about the future of the Scott Lane bridge after it was swept away by floodwaters in January 2021. From left Allanah and Matt Scott with Briar (4 months) and Pippa (2), David Greer, Catherine Greer, Jock Scott, Andrew Scott, Tony Steele, Rose McDonald and Phill Harrington. PHOTOS: SHANNON THOMSON
Residents in Scott Lane and surrounding roads have to cross the Kyeburn River about 150m upstream from the bridge - but only if their vehicle has a high wheel base and the weather has been favourable.

Otherwise, they are forced to take the long way round.

That takes them on to Swinburn Back Rd then Hore Rd to SH85 - up to an additional 18km each way.

In winter, snow limits that option.

The area’s postie fords the river daily, however three-quarters of the time has to take the long way, adding 30 minutes to his route.

Those who live in the area factor the broken bridge into the basics of their everyday lives, from attending work, rugby training and grocery shopping through to the important events - the upcoming birth of a baby, medical conditions and farming decisions.

Jock Scott said not only was the Scott Lane bridge an important accessway for his farming operation, but at more than 90 years old it had historical importance to him and his family.

Debbie Paterson at the Halls Ford bridge which separates both sides of her and husband James’...
Debbie Paterson at the Halls Ford bridge which separates both sides of her and husband James’ farm. The bridge has been closed since January last year.
The extra distance travelled in winter was a major concern for farm worker Phill Harrington.

His wife Kerri works at Maniototo Hospital in Ranfurly and after a late shift, travelling home via the bridge used to be the safest option.

With that gone, winter snow had prevented her from going to work - resulting in flow-on effects for the hospital.

"If it snows up our way she won’t go to work, and at 2’clock when she’s coming home or whatever it is, she won’t get home so this is the safest access, you know, for someone who needs to come this way."

The local school bus was also unable to operate when the snow hit, a concern for those who had school-aged children.

"It’s just a bit of a safety factor really, and I think if we had a council member living on this road you probably would have seen it moving a lot faster than this," Mr Harrington said.

The Scott Lane bridge over the Kyeburn River has sat broken since a portion of it was swept away...
The Scott Lane bridge over the Kyeburn River has sat broken since a portion of it was swept away by floodwaters last year.
Emergency services were front of mind for farmer Tony Steele.

"That’s probably at the top of the list, the emergency services ... and like I say - it’s a long way round.

"In the winter time our roads, I mean it’s a gravel road right round and there’s quite often stock on the road ... so emergency services is the big one."

Matt Scott and his young family live 6km from the bridge - generations of his family have farmed there for more than 100 years.

He said the situation was "massively" frustrating.

"And really just a bit of an insult to us in this corner that the councils don’t really care ... they just haven’t given us the respect of letting us know what’s going on."

Farmer David Greer agreed.

"The most frustrating part is that we’ve heard very little. I mean, nobody’s wanted to talk to us. There was an engineer that was supposed to do a report - how bloody long does it take them?"

The Scott Lane bridge stops midway over the Kyeburn riverbank.
The Scott Lane bridge stops midway over the Kyeburn riverbank.
On the other side of Ranfurly, James and Debbie Paterson’s farm has been split in two by the closure of Bridge 145 (Halls Ford) in Maniototo Rd.

While still intact, the bridge was deemed unsafe due to age and deterioration.

Mr Paterson said the closure of the bridge had cost "thousands" with his farming operation divided - working infrastructure on one side and grass production on the other.

"We would cross that bridge five times a day in vehicles, motorbikes. I did the maths a while ago. In one month we put just over 4000 sheep over that bridge, 300 cattle."

Council engineers had told him to truck stock or sell half his farm.

"That’s the comments I’m getting back from engineers - they’ve got no idea, so it’s completely hamstrung.

"We’ve lost the convenience, we’ve lost efficiency, we’ve lost economics, we’ve lost the whole lot."

Bridge 145 (Halls Ford) crossing the Taieri River in Maniototo Rd has been deemed unsafe and...
Bridge 145 (Halls Ford) crossing the Taieri River in Maniototo Rd has been deemed unsafe and closed to public access since January last year.
Mr Paterson said he had put options to the Central Otago District Council to replace the bridge, including offering to buy the bridge and make it private, hire and install a Bailey bridge - a temporary structure for emergencies and planned events such as roading projects - and he also had bridge and box culvert designs and Otago Regional Council consents ready to go.

At the Maniototo Community Board meeting last week, Mr Paterson told elected representatives he needed answers and was ready to proceed with a private option if need be.

All parties spoken to by the Otago Daily Times expressed frustration about a lack of communication and action from the district council.

Council executive manager of infrastructure services Julie Muir said council appreciated the closures had a "significant impact" on bridge users and it would discuss the bridges concerned, along with others throughout the district on June 1.

The repair and reinstatement of bridges was funded 49% by ratepayers, and 51% by Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency.

Motorists in Maniototo Rd are unable to cross the Taieri River due to Bridge 145 (Halls Ford)...
Motorists in Maniototo Rd are unable to cross the Taieri River due to Bridge 145 (Halls Ford) being out of commission.
Waka Kotahi had allocated $1.45million for 2021-24 for repairs and replacement of bridges in the region, however that was not sufficient to cover all of the region - the cost of the Scott Lane bridge alone was expected to exceed the entire three-year budget.

Ms Muir acknowledged the council could have provided more information.

"We could have provided more clarity to affected residents on our ability to construct replacement structures at these locations within relatively short timelines, and within the funding available."

Significant increases to funding to enable replacement of the structures would require consultation with the community and agreement from Waka Kotahi, she said.

shannon.thomson@odt.co.nz

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