Coast ratepayers could foot cyclone bill

The bill for storm damage to the Cobden foreshore from ex-tropical Cyclone Fehi could top $2 million, with Grey District Council ratepayers possibly having to foot much of the bill.

This includes $1m for a new seawall, underwritten by the council until the Government decides what it will pay.

The council this week formally ratified an informal mandate taken the day after the storm, to forge ahead with the seawall to protect the old rubbish dump which was ripped open by the storm.

Rockwork will extend from the end of the Jellyman Park car park to the Cobden tiphead.

New protection work on the breakwater itself - badly undermined during the same storm - will also cost at least $900,000.

The council said that could attract a subsidy if the Government recognised the storm damage as an extraordinary event.

The sea breached the old landfill by up to 10m on February 1, washing out mountains of plastic rubbish which was strewn across the Cobden foreshore and other local beaches.

Staff have applied for $800,000 from the Government and say funding options are otherwise limited.

One included a further increase in the general rate across the Grey district in 2018-19 to service borrowing.

The loan cost for the seawall over 10 years would represent a 0.66% rate increase - an average cost of $16 per ratepayer.

Other options were the disaster recovery reserve of $2.07m, making savings or deferring existing projects.

Mayor Tony Kokshoorn recommended dipping into the reserve fund in the meantime. It had been set up years ago and had only been used once, at the time of the Pike River Mine disaster.

Cr Cliff Sandrey seconded the motion to underwrite the cost from reserve funds, but he wanted to know a "true estimate".

"I'd just like to cap it if we're making a motion like that - up to $1m - to stop it getting out of hand,"

Cr Sandrey said.

Mr Kokshoorn said the council was simply underwriting "at this stage".

Assets and engineering manager Mel Sutherland said work was under way on a haul road to form the new seawall footing.

"As we're doing that we're designing it and negotiating the rates for the rock, which is the most expensive part," Mr Sutherland said.

Cr Patrick McBride asked if the council was running the risk of being left to bear the cost by the Government.

"Will they decide to say 'we don't have to help them'?"

Mr Kokshoorn said "unfortunately" the council was obliged to be transparent by detailing its business, including the tiphead repairs, at a cost of up to $1m, but he was cautiously optimistic about that.

"If the Government recognises this as an extraordinary event they will fund 60%."

The remaining 40% would be covered by insurance and "if it goes our way" the council would only be liable for a $250,000 excess on the insurance.

"This thing has escalated.

"We should all know this because we've got some real budgetary soul searching to do here," Mr Kokshoorn said.

Cr Anton Becker asked why protecting Cobden was different from Rapahoe.

Mr Kokshoorn said Rapahoe fell under the West Coast Regional Council's gambit.

Acting chief executive Ian Young said the Cobden project was about protecting Grey District Council assets, which included the old dump and the tiphead.

- by Brendon McMahon

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