12 Jun 2018

Farmers order forestry companies to pay for ‘one helluva mess’

From Checkpoint, 5:20 pm on 12 June 2018

Farmers in flood-hit Tolaga Bay are considering legal action against forestry companies for the damage done to their stock and properties by runaway slash.

They say the companies that left logs and slash in their forests, only to be washed away by flood waters last week, were not taking responsibility. 

It has been a week since flash flooding hit the area, and heavy rain last night caused more water and logging debris to be washed over roads and farms.

Thirty-six farms in the area have been affected by flooding during the past week. They want the logging companies to put up $100 million to clean up the mess and a halt to all logging activity.

They also want a government inquiry into the industry.

Tolaga Bay, heavy rain forced piles of wood onto farmland.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

For farmers Mike and Bridget Parker it was a long sleepless night, as heavy rain brought the threat of more flooding to their already sodden farm.

"We had a very long night, not much sleep, we had a huge amount of wind. We had another 50mm of rain last night and the rivers came up seriously quickly once again and we just (thought) 'oh well here we go again really, watching all the logs come down the river," Mr Parker said. 

"Basically we've found out that what's happened is that we've had debris damns up three of the tributaries here that have built up hugely, like a 747 racing off a tarmac," he said. 

Tolaga Bay, heavy rain forced piles of wood onto farmland.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

They're now facing damages of at least $600,000 after fences, paddocks and crops were damaged by last week's flood.

The three major forestry companies invited affected farmers to a meeting last night, but Ms Parker wasn't impressed.  

"This has only happened because of forestry's logs. And at the meeting last night the heads of the whole three forestry companies involved; Olsen's, Ernslaw and Hikurangi Forest Farms said that they will only be paying out if their insurance can prove that they have been negligent in the forest," Ms Parker said.

"They have absolutely no social conscience whatsoever and they have no intention of bringing forestry staff down here to help poor people like this, lift up their fences, get logs off their property and get silt out of their homes," she said. 

"They are not going to come unless they been proven to be negligent, and we think it's absolutely disgusting," she said. 

Tolaga Bay, heavy rain forced piles of wood onto farmland.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The public and media were barred from last night's meeting, and Mike Parker said farmers were left feeling disillusioned.

"They made no decisions, [they] committed to absolutely nothing. They knew what they were in for, we just went round and round in circles. It was basically a circus, really," Mr Parker said.

He said several times the companies were asked, 'where to from now' and that the farmers told them to go and talk to their overseas owners and come back in a week's time. 

Up the road, landowners and ecologists Marie McEntee and Grant Dumbell were planting their own forestry block.

They believed the big logging companies were not following the rules, and the council was not policing them.

Tolaga Bay, heavy rain forced piles of wood onto farmland.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

She said it looked like there were a million tonne of logs and people were trying to work through the logistics of getting them out. 

Mr Dumbell believed a lot of the problems rested with council. 

"A lot of these roads lead back to council. We heard council say the other day they're going to undertake an investigation on whether or not these forest companies are undertaking their logging practices according to their consent conditions," Mr Dumbell said.

"I asked the council why do they need an investigation?  Because they are the statutory authority that is required to put those resources consents in place, they are also the statuary authority that is required to monitor those consents and why do they need an investigation, they should already know this," he said. 

Their neighbour, Paroa Station, lost 300 sheep in last week's flood. Paroa Station manager Mike Atkins said they were still waiting on the go ahead from PF Olsen, who leased the land, before they could clean up.

"We're just waiting for a decision from Olsen's Forestry, because I was told just to leave it, because a lot of the logs have came out of Olsen's Forestry. We were told last week not to touch it, (but) we can't leave it too long," he said.