Haast communities struggle with emergency consent costs

The tiny settlement of Okuru near Haast is vulnerable to several waterways backing up. PHOTO:...
The tiny settlement of Okuru near Haast is vulnerable to several waterways backing up. PHOTO: West Coast Regional Council
Small South Westland communities worried about the cost of emergency flood intervention may be in for some relief.

West Coast Regional Council deputy chairman Brett Cummings, who chairs the council's Resource Management Committee, noted this week the council is nearly through all of its 23 special rating district annual meetings - with just three to go.

Cr Cummings said meetings for Okuru and at Neils Beach at Haast drew strong concern from residents about "the cost" of gaining individual consent for their special rating districts to undertake emergency river mouth management.

The council has a long-standing practice of opening up, at short notice, coastal river mouth and lagoon areas where the outlets to the sea have silted up, with the resulting back-up causing flooding to residential areas.

Cr Cummings said residents south of Haast, where both special rating districts only have a few contributors, were very concerned at the potential cost.

Council chief executive Darryl Lew said it was important to differentiate that in the river mouth opening process a council engineering officer had to make the application.

It meant council was obliged to externalise the consent application process to another agent.

"We will typically go to market for a consultant to get that consent. I understand the rating district is concerned about the cost."

Mr Lew said council intended to minimise that in future by applying for a global consent covering all relevant river mouth opening areas along the 650km long region.

"Instead of getting a consent for each mouth opening, this is a way to spread the cost via a global consent."

This could encompass some river openings managed by Westland District Council and would be for a 35-year period, he said.

The consent burden would then be spread via an "annualised cost" across all the relevant rating districts, Mr Lew said.

Cr Cummings said at the Okuru meeting he had heard of one long-standing residence having a metre of water through it for the first time in 80 years.

This pressed the urgency from residents wanting council to more actively manage river mouths, he said.

Other general concerns, not specific to the special rating district, but raised by residents anyway included the increasing insurance risk and the impact of the 'one district plan - the Te Tai o Poutini Plan.

Mr Lew said it was important to differentiate between the rating district meeting matters and others like the plan, "but inevitably rating district meetings are a good forum".

Cr Cummings noted many of the Haast rating districts members lived in Central Otago so it would be good for council to include some management to answer queries at the next round of meetings, he said.

Cr Peter Ewen asked if either the Neils Beach or Okuru districts were also subject to Department of Conservation permission.

Cr Andy Campbell said he understood permission costs of at least $10,000 for those areas needed to be considered against current total rate takes of only $5000 a year.

Cr Cummings said driftwood being illegally removed from beaches in those areas also worried residents, given it speeds up erosion.

- By Brendon McMahon
Local Democracy reporter