Bluecliffs homes considered safe; Waiau bar to be opened

Bluecliffs, where a state of emergency was declared last week. Photo: RNZ
Bluecliffs, where a state of emergency was declared last week. Photo: RNZ
Building inspectors have confirmed homes in the Southland settlement of Bluecliffs are currently safe, after the community lost three metres of land in one day.

A state of emergency was declared on Thursday due to concerns of rapid erosion from the sea and Waiau River during a king tide over the weekend.

Eighteen properties are affected, although only six are permanent residences.

The community lost about three metres of land in a day last week as the river ate into gravel, sand and bank.

Emergency Management controller Simon Mapp said inspectors had confirmed the homes and structures were currently safe and noted no issues with wastewater or land slumping at this stage.

An attempt will be made to open the Waiau River mouth to the sea to direct flow away from the properties this week.

"Environment Southland has been working on plans to open the bar for sometime, and those plans can now be acted on, which means we've been able to move swiftly to try and create a new opening in the bar," he said.

If successful, it was hoped to temporarily reduce the erosion currently happening before the houses and old community fly tip.

"The health and safety of those involved in the opening is being carefully considered. Timing of sea swells and tides will play a key part in the success of the opening, and Meridian is supporting this by managing the river flow," Mapp said.

Given the complex and constantly changing environment, it was not known how well the opening may work or how much time it may provide residents, he said.

Some of the material in the old tip may also contain possible explosives, which made the situation even more delicate.

In September last year, work to clear the tip material was halted when Southland District Council was alerted to a potential risk of explosives among the material.

Mapp said the bulk of the material moved so far was mainly burnt domestic rubbish bags of waste with "the odd metal and steel bits and pieces, for example an old couch and some car parts".

"Council and contractors are urgently developing a new plan on how to deal with the remainder of the tip, given the accelerated erosion."

None of the rubbish in the tip had gone into the sea since September, when a 15 to 20 metre barrier was made between it and the foreshore, he said.

A work site for opening the bar was set up today, and preparations will continue throughout the week.

There would be restricted public access to the boat ramp and some roads in the area to manage access to the active work site for contractors and everyone's safety, Mapp said.

"We've had reports of people visiting the area to have a look. Please avoid any unnecessary travel to the area while this state of emergency is in place. This is for the safety of residents and those working in the area."

Further conversations with the community about the future of the area were also continuing, he said.