'At the mercy of mother nature': Southland mayor addresses Bluecliffs’ future

5:53 pm on 19 March 2024
Emergency Management Southland/Supplied. Caption: Bluecliffs is a small coastal township 10km from Tūātapere. It has been under a state of emergency since February 8 as accelerated erosion causes problems for properties and an old dumpsite.

Bluecliffs has been under a state of emergency since 8 February as accelerated erosion causes problems for properties and an old dumpsite. Photo: Supplied / Emergency Management Southland

Residents battling severe erosion in Bluecliffs have been applauded for making plans to relocate their houses or shift out of the area entirely.

The small Southland township of just under 20 permanent residents has been under a state of emergency since 8 February as both the Waiau River and nearby ocean threaten properties.

It is currently evacuated while an old dumpsite, which could contain explosives, is cleared.

Southland mayor Rob Scott said in a statement on Monday that residents planning to either move their homes to the front of their properties, or away from the area entirely, were making a "positive move".

Scott told Local Democracy Reporting this did not mean residents should begin looking elsewhere right away, but they did need to start looking ahead.

"In the long term, when you look at the nature of what's happening, that is the picture that people need to be starting to look at and be aware of."

He also did not rule out that a time could come when residents were asked to vacate the area permanently, saying it was important to be realistic, as nobody had ever "successfully taken on mother nature and won yet".

"Basically what I'm saying is, we haven't washed our hands of the situation.

"We're not going 'the landfill's done, we're walking away'."

Emergency Management Southland controller Matt Alley announced on Monday that the response to erosion had transitioned to recovery - a move which allowed the appointment of a recovery manager.

Under this person's supervision, a medium to long-term view of erosion risk at Bluecliffs would be managed.

Meanwhile, an assessment of the unsuccessful attempt to open the bar of the Waiau River was also being reviewed with plans to engage the community in the next week about potential next moves.

Previous efforts to open the mouth and redirect the flow of the river had fallen short, drawing both the ire of the mayor and residents.

Scott said it would not be a long-term measure if the bar was successfully opened, and could not say how long Bluecliffs residents likely had left in the area.

"We really are at the mercy of mother nature there at the moment."

Emergency Management Southland confirmed around 1100 tonnes of material had been removed over four days from the old landfill site.

No explosives had been found, but a large amount of asbestos was being managed by specialists.

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

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