16 Jul 2014

Northland roads covered - Brownlee

10:25 pm on 16 July 2014

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee has confirmed there will be central government help in picking up the bill for the repair of all storm-damaged roads in Northland.

Flooding at Hukerenui, Northland.

Flooding at Hukerenui, Northland. Photo: Northland Regional Council

Federated Farmers had raised concerns that councils may collapse under the cost of repairing roads which were washed out or blocked by slips during storms which ravaged the region last week.

However, Mr Brownlee told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Wednesday that would not happen.

"We do have an emergency fund. As soon as we know exactly what the extent of the work required is, then we'll be able to trigger some of that funding through NZTA. It will cover all roads."

The Federation's Northland president Roger Ludbrook had said the three Northland councils were three-quarters of a billion dollars in debt, and he was concerned they would have to borrow more to repair the storm damage.

"If you force these costs onto costs - certainly something like the Far North district council - I don't know how they're going to cope."

The Government has declared a medium-scale adverse event in the region and is contributing $100,000 to a mayoral relief fund, while the Far North District Council on Wednesday added $90,000 to the fund.

Affected locals can apply to the council for grants of up to $1000 to repair homes, replace damaged property or meet costs incurred as a result of the storm. The council said grants above that amount may be awarded to people experiencing extreme hardship.

Julie Jonker, coordinator of the Rural Support Trust, said she was happy with the level of support the Government had provided the region so far. She said the adverse event declaration meant funding was now available to the trust to coordinate relief efforts.

"That will be a huge help. It just means that instead of not knowing where to go, if somebody needs an answer to something they contact us. If I don't know it I will go and find out what it is."

Ms Jonker said there been about 100 calls from people in the rural community either asking for or offering help.

Wairoa River Tangiteroria bridge submerged by floodwaters.

Wairoa River Tangiteroria bridge submerged by floodwaters. Photo: Northland Regional Council

Farmer clashes with council over stopbank

Meanwhile, a local farmer is unrepentant about cutting through a stopbank to drain his flooded farm, and said he would defend himself in court if he has to.

Sixty hectares of Evan Smeath's dairy farm in the Hikurangi swamp remain under water, and he said it had destroyed most of his grazing land right at the start of calving season.

Mr Smeath said he negotiated unsuccessfully for two days to get the Whangarei District Council's approval to cut through the stopbank.

He said the council said 'no' because it said the measure would affect farmers further downstream.

"But the effect of what we've actually cut - there's no effect to any other farmer at all. The river drops faster than the rate that we can actually cut a hole and put it out in, so we're not doing anybody else any harm whatsoever" he said.

Whangarei mayor Sheryl Mai told Morning Report that Mr Smeath may be prosecuted.

Ms Mai said that while she could understand farmers wanting to get water off their farms, the council did condone such actions. She said no decision had yet been made on whether to prosecute.