16 Jul 2014

'Urgent help needed' to repair roads

6:29 am on 16 July 2014

Federated Farmers say the Government is out of touch with the urgent need for help to repair Northland roads that have taken a hammering from last week's severe storm.

The key route into Northland is closed, and an alternative route is closed to heavy vehicles, which must use another route via State Highway 12. Locals say that is also badly damaged.

State Highway 1 at Maromaku, south of Kawakawa, remains closed due to storm damage.

State Highway 1 at Maromaku, south of Kawakawa, remains closed due to storm damage. Photo: NZTA

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy visited the region on Tuesday and said roading issues weren't raised with him.

But Roger Ludbrook from Federated Farmers says while key roads are government funded, local roads take up half the budget of local councils and the region can't cope with the damage.

"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that when you take the poorest region in New Zealand and then tell them they've got to fix what is close to the same roading area that Auckland has and they've got to do it off their own bat, they're going to be in trouble."

Mr Ludbrook said without assistance, the burden of repair bills will fall on ratepayers.

Truckies going extra mile - and then some

Truckies in parts of the region are driving hundreds of extra kilometres on deteriorating back roads to get animal feed and other supplies to farmers whose pastures are flooded.

Operator Doug Wilson, a 35-year truck driving veteran in rural Northland, said on Tuesday that diversions and damage are a nightmare for haulage companies planning freight runs. He said his drivers are using rough roads and having to dodge potholes to keep the supply chain open.

"The roads are shocking, all the bypass roads are all slipping away, packing up. We're trying to get palm kernel and that sort of thing to dairy farmers who have got no grass because it's all under water."

Northland Regional Council chairman Bill Shepherd said roading authorities are working hard to fix the damage and aimed to have one badly slip-affected section of State Highway 1 south of Kawakawa operational again within days.

The storm caused a massive slip on the highway at Maromaku, which closed the road. The Transport Agency said contractors would be working around the clock to try to get at least one lane open within the next week.

Crews are working on a relief road round the slip, but Jacqui Hori-Hoult from the Transport Agency told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Tuesday it would be several days before it could be opened.

State Highway 12 is the official detour route, but the highway is reduced to a single lane at Kaihu.

State Highway 12 is the official detour route, but the highway is reduced to a single lane at Kaihu. Photo: NZTA

Mangakahia Road is also closed to heavy traffic, meaning the only open route is State Highway 12, up the west coast through Hokianga - adding an extra two hours to the journey.

But Kaihu resident Peter Bailey said that State Highway was already half gone, and didn't know how long it would last if heavy trucks were sent along it. The slips caused by the rain were subsiding, but there was still a six-metre drop from the road to the river below, and about 40 metres of the highway was down to one lane, he said.

"But there doesn't seem to be any bedrock under the highway. I know it's been repaired there a few times before, but I don't know what's holding the road up. Half the road is gone, so put your money down and take your chances is what I would say."

Food getting through

There are no issues with food supplies reaching Northland despite storm-related damage to the region's roads, Civil Defence officials say.

Northland Civil Defence spokesman Graeme MacDonald said suggestions that damage to roads was causing food supply issues were incorrect and goods trucks were still able to reach virtually all parts of the region and deliveries were being made.

Northland Regional Council chairman Bill Shepherd had earlier said the road closures had been causing issues for food supplies

But Mr MacDonald said that at the height of the storm some supermarkets may have got low on a few items, but had quickly restocked once the storm had ended.

Water supply critical

Civil Defence in the Far North says it could be another two days before the Paihia water supply is back to full strength.

Over the past few days, the reservoir level had fallen to just 15 percent after the treatment plant became clogged with silt from the flooded Waitangi River.

Despite calls for residents to use as little as possible, the Far North District Council said people are stockpiling water and that is contributing to critically low levels.

Far North Civil Defence controller Alastair Wells said they're waiting for the river level to drop, which will hopefully happen during fine spells over the next few days.