26 Sep 2017

Officials grilled at Manawatu Gorge road options meeting

9:13 am on 26 September 2017

Residents in Palmerston North wrestled control of a Transport Agency (NZTA) announcement, demanding their frustrations with the closed Manawatu Gorge be heard.

Ross I'Anson addresses the attendees of the meeting.

Ross I'Anson from the Transport Agency addresses the attendees. Photo: RNZ / Jacob McSweeny

Many were unimpressed with the 13 possible replacements proposed by the agency.

The gorge road between Palmerston North and Woodville has been closed by slips for long periods several times over the years and was closed indefinitely after a landslide on April.

Last night the agency held a public meeting to talk through its list of alternatives routes between Manawatu and Hawke's Bay.

About 150 people were at the Palmerston North Convention Centre to see the options.

They included a viaduct through the gorge, two possible tunnels, a new straight road south of the gorge as well as an upgrade to the Saddle Road.

Check out an interactive map of the options here

A consortium has also approached the Transport Agency about raising the now buried Manawatu Gorge Road and putting a wall in to protect it.

In July, public meetings were heated with angry residents lashing out at the agency's representatives.

Last night an agency staffer tried to tie up the public meeting after outlining the 13 options and taking a few questions, but that was not accepted by the audience.

As a staffer declared 'last question,' local man Ian Flyger reprimanded him.

"Excuse me. I'd like to know - we have about 150 to 200 people here tonight. I think we've all got questions to ask. Why are we limited by you sir, to the last question?"

Ian Flyger

Ian Flyger Photo: RNZ / Jacob McSweeny

That prompted another resident to stand up and call out the agency.

"This is a public meeting - it was advertised as a public meeting and it's not to have a few people at the front and to shut it all down.

"We want the questions and the answers to be heard in public for transparency for the people affected."

He was widely applauded.

Mr Flyger said he wanted more from agency staff.

"It just appears to me they're coming up with an answer that we haven't got an alternative yet. The ongoing problems with the gorge over the years, a considerable number of years, has never really effectively been addressed.

"They're telling us now that they're looking at options but good god wouldn't experience tell us that there should be an alternative or a backup in the case of an emergency.

"We have an emergency now, we have communities on one side of the ranges and the other suffering dramatically and we're getting roads torn up by heavy traffic ... which is adding to the cost," he said.

"It's been very airy fairy"

Hugh Akers owns a farm alongside the Saddle Road.

He said he got a phone call last Friday asking if he would like to come to the meeting - but it was not until he was at the meeting he learned an upgrade option would run through his property.

Hugh Akers

Hugh Akers Photo: RNZ / Jacob McSweeny

"Well it's a bit disturbing really. We hadn't seen any sign of anybody looking around us ... through the property.

"All of a sudden we get this [phone call] to say ... 'you should come a long'. So we thought maybe we are being affected.

Stuart Bolton also farms on the Saddle Road and had two possible routes going through his land.

"They're quite keen on getting a new route. But where they're going to put it ... leaves us in limbo basically.

"What do you do with your farming? If you want to spend money on capital projects ... like re-grassing new paddocks and then ... what's the point because you're going to have a new motorway go through, so I'm sort of holding back a bit."

To get to the Saddle Road means going through the small town of Ashhurst.

People there have been calling for a bypass but the one proposed on Monday night came as a shock to Craig O'Leary.

Craig O'Leary

Craig O'Leary Photo: RNZ / Jacob McSweeny

"At the moment River Road is a dead-end shingle road," he said.

"But in nine months time it might be a temporary State Highway 3. Which means it'll go a hundred metres from our bedroom window."

Mr O'Leary said if the bypass did run by his house he would want NZTA to stump up for some mitigation factors such as double glazing or plants to block the noise.

He was worried the Transport Agency did not have to consult him about putting the bypass down his road because it would not be on his land.

"I'd like them to talk to us and I'm sure they will.

"If they don't talk to us and give us some sort of compensation well they'll probably be hearing a lot more from the O'Learys," he said.

"And I'll be talking to you guys [the media] a lot more because if that's the only thing I've got to fight with is the media well that's what I'll do."

The Transport Agency is to hold a similar meeting in Woodville at 6pm today and another in Ashhurst on Wednesday.

A decision on a replacement to the gorge road is to be made by December.

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