Three options for future of Franz Josef

Franz Josef township is nestled beneath the Southern Alps on the West Coast and surrounded by...
Franz Josef township is nestled beneath the Southern Alps on the West Coast. Photo: Matthew Haggart.

Three options for the future of Franz Josef Glacier township have been put to residents -- including a drastic option of moving the entire town away from the Alpine Fault and Waiho River.

The West Coast Regional Council commissioned Tonkin Taylor to undertake a full report to help with decision-making on the best way forward for the town given the flooding and earthquake risks.

The report is not being released publicly yet.

The draft findings of the study -- detailing three options -- were put to a community meeting of about 70 last night.

Franz Incorporated chairman Graham Berry said the presentation outlined a risk analysis behind three scenarios and options.

The options are:

  • Move the present township further north
  • Keep the status quo
  • Let the Waiho (Waiau) River stopbanks go on the south bank to let the river take its natural course

Mr Berry said the viability of the town was at stake and at the heart of the report.

Franz Josef, with 500,000 overnight guests each year, is the third most frequented tourist spot in New Zealand and nationally significant.

"At the end of the day it's the safety and future of the town," he said.

"It is imperative we do it right."

Mr Berry his group would gauge community "preference" about the options to take back to the regional council working group.

Franz Josef business owner Adam Haugh said the meeting was positive and "quite an advancement" on previous proposals.

The three packages presented had been highly researched to be viable.

The options presented integrated experience gained through the Canterbury and Kaikoura earthquakes in a "before rather than after" scenario, which was useful, Mr Haugh said.

Regional council chief executive Mike Meehan said there was "no one solution" but combinations of the options would help protect what was at
stake.

Those options identified how to avoid, defend, and live with the most significant natural challenges facing the township, he said.

"This is the most comprehensive assessment undertaken of the challenges for the township and will inform decision making at a local and national
level," Mr Meehan said.

A collective decision would need to be made, particularly the appetite in Franz Josef for "living with or defending" against the known natural risks.

"Once this is established, I am very keen to ensure we continue to engage with central and local government, the community and iwi to find the right way forward for the future.

"We now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make decisions that would normally be made after an event has occurred," Mr Meehan said.

Future-proofing Franz Josef recognised that current infrastructure improvements, such as raising the bridge over the Waiho River and stopbank
repairs were "only temporary measures".

Additional comments would be added to the report following feedback from the community.

The option of moving the town had a whole lot of factors to consider, such as compensation for the affected businesses, and how they could continue to operate through the transition, Mr Meehan said.

- by Brendon McMahon and Janna Sherman

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