KiwiRail accused of holding up vital flood protection work

7:02 pm on 5 February 2024
A KiwiRail shunt pulls away from the Westland Milk Products Hokitika site on Gibson Quay. The planned flood protection bank will be to the right of the picture.

A KiwiRail shunt pulls away from the Westland Milk Products Hokitika site on Gibson Quay. The planned flood protection bank will be to the right of the picture. Photo: Brendon McMahon/Greymouth Star

Delays caused by KiwiRail are "a risk" to quickly advancing a flood protection wall for Hokitika, a council meeting has heard.

The flood resilience work is part of a staged project to protect the Hokitika residential area and the CBD underway since early 2023.

The first stage of work on the bank of the Hokitika River, behind Westland Milk Products, has already been completed.

Council is hoping to have the next stage from the Hokitika River Bridge, along Gibson Quay and the Hokitika Industrial Railway, to Westland Milk Products completed by mid-year.

The project has been deemed "urgent" after the river was just a few millimetres from overtopping the old bank at Westland Milk Products in late 2022.

This would have been catastrophic for the region's dairy industry and Hokitika's single biggest employer, as well as residents in the surrounding area.

Council's infrastructure programme manager Scott Hoare said they had been liaising with KiwiRail over a level crossing impact assessment for some time.

"There is a risk of further delays to the resource consent for Stage 1b due to delays in receiving feedback from KiwiRail," Hoare told the West Coast

Regional Council's Infrastructure Governance Committee on 29 January.

Council's consultant Davis Ogilvie had responded to the additional queries from KiwiRail, and the level crossing assessment had been provided, "however resolving these issues will likely further delay the start construction".

Hoare said the two level crossings, which give access to the Hokitika Riverbed, were "a low risk category".

"However, KiwiRail are still problematic to deal with in terms of their timely response," he said.

Offers to assist KiwiRail to make less work for them had not advanced.

"It's still becoming quite problematic with them … we're working alongside their corridor, however, in terms of affected party approval, there may be other options," Hoare said.

Infrastructure Governance Committee chairman Frank Dooley said the delay was "pretty disappointing" and "bureaucracy gone mad".

"KiwiRail is a Crown-owned entity, you'd expect their processes to be better than that," Dooley said.

Councillor Peter Haddock asked if council could still proceed on the basis it already had the consent of all other parties "or do we really need KiwiRail?"

Hoare said council had the option of changing the consent process to a limited notification.

However, it appeared KiwiRail were still working things through internally, "albeit it's very slow".

Council chief executive Darryl Lew said they could give KiwiRail the rest of this week to respond.

"If they don't we will proceed to limited notification. If they come back with written approval, that's when the limited notification goes away."

Councillor Peter Ewen noted a similar issue with KiwiRail in 2022 when council needed to advance the business case for Westport flood protection: "There was no response".

Councillor Peter Haddock said the crux of the matter was the people of Hokitika "are vulnerable and at risk".

Councillor Andy Campbell noted the new stop bank would benefit them: "We're actually helping them protect their infrastructure for nothing."

In a response, KiwiRail executive general manager property Anna Allen did not directly respond to assertations made at the council table.

However the State rail operator "has worked closely" with the regional council and its consultants on this issue, Allen said.

"Details of the application were received in August last year, and Kiwi Rail requested additional information in September," she said.

KiwiRail then met the consultants for council in October and sought more information afterwards.

"That was provided just after Christmas, and KiwiRail is now reviewing that material. We expect to finish that review shortly."

Allen said KiwiRail wanted to help progress things as quickly as possible but needed "to properly assess" the impact on its rail asset "to ensure it continues to comply with our standards and codes".

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.