Westport's flooding disaster "could have been avoided" if funds had been available sooner to reduce the risk.
Spending more on adaptation prior to the July 2021 floods could have prevented the "social upheaval, damage and costs" of the disaster, a submission on behalf of the West Coast Regional Council says.
Westport is one of three "lessons learned" in the Te Uru Kahika Regional and Unitary Councils Aotearoa submission to the government on an inquiry into community-led retreat and adaptation funding.
The aftermath of the Westport floods in July 2021 are still being mopped up as the Regional and Buller District councils move to implement a new flood scheme worth $22.9 million.
Initial government funding - to pay back the regional council's catastrophe fund already spent on Westport - is now delayed in the post-election changeover.
The Te Uru Kahika submission was tabled at the council's meeting on 13 November.
"Westport is the case example of social upheaval, damage and costs that could have been avoided if more central government 'adaptation' assistance had been available earlier," the submission says.
"The investment of around $10m would have saved the $100m expenditure made on recovery after the July 2021 flood event."
Westport regional council representative Frank Dooley - a critic of the slow progress since July 2021 - said Westport's disaster might have been avoided through having adaptation funding earlier.
The submission made it clear there needed to be a sustainable path for adaptation, he said.
"It is clear that central government needs to come up with a funding stream."
He referred to the Westport example of $10m needed for work well before the flood event, which spurred $100m of spending to mop up.
"That's what this report points out - it's about being pro-active," Dooley said.
The submission also looked at what was learnt from Cyclone Gabrielle in Hawke's Bay. It looked at the need for early central government funding, whether the response should be centrally or locally led, land use and property categorisation, and the vulnerability and tolerance of risk.
Councillor Andy Campbell said the issues addressed in the submission came after 30 years of underfunding.
Resource Management Committee chairman Brett Cummings said that had been raised by Te Uru Kahika.
The underfunding dated back to the catchment board predecessors of the current regional council structure.
The regional council initially proposed a $10.2m scheme in late 2021 as affordable for the Westport community.
Subsequently, the government asked the council in February 2022 to formulate a proposal as "a test case" for similar communities including future retreat and adaptation options.
The subsequent $56m Kawatiri Business Case proposal in July 2022 got an answer in the May Budget: a $22.9m scheme.
The submission described this as "a belated but good case example" of how to address flood challenges.
Councillor Campbell said the town "is still vulnerable" given that work to protect it is only starting.
Councillor Dooley said that was true, although quite a bit of the groundwork had been done.
"We are making progress: you can see around Westport although it's still frustrating."
Westport flood protection: where more help is needed
Work underway in Westport is being highlighted as a good example for addressing flood challenges.
The Te Uru Kahika submission says Westport focuses on "an adaptive management approach", including the use of:
- River embankment structures
- Accommodation measures including strengthening Civil Defence and Emergency Management
- Managed retreat measures
However, challenges remain, including an "unwillingness of the Crown" to share the cost of the managed retreat of about seven Snodgrass Road houses, the submission said.
Te Uru Kahika also said Waka Kotahi had not committed to raising Westport's two state highway bridges (Buller and Orowaiti rivers).
The submission wanted the government to help to avoid housing infill and further subdivisions within the Westport areas with proposed embankments.
The construction of flood management infrastructure "will buy time" for other climate adaptation tools to be developed and applied, Te Uru Kahika said.
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