'Light at the end of the tunnel' for West Coast clean-up

1:45 pm on 8 April 2019

Volunteers helping clean up rubbish strewn down part of the West Coast say they are making progress.

West Coast rubbish spill

West Coast rubbish spill Photo: Facebook / South Westland Coastal Cleanup

Mike Bilodeau is coordinating the volunteers cleaning up the rubbish that came from the Fox Glacier dump, when swollen rivers ate away at the old landfill.

Each group of volunteers was filling three to four large sacks of rubbish, and there were four to six groups working at a time.

Volunteers would keep gathering trash strategically, one section of the coast at a time, he said.

"Once those areas are stable as in there's very little rubbish on them then we'll leave them and move onto another area, but we'll still monitor those areas, that way we can get an idea of how much is still washing up from the sea as the tides come in."

Mr Bilodeau said there was still a huge amount of rubbish to pick up, but the groups were "making great strides".

Once more support had come from the council and outside sources, the enormity of the task had seemed more manageable.

"There's definitely a light at the end of the tunnel."

People had come from as far as Invercargill to help clean up, and there had been interest from people living in Wellington, too.

Mr Bilodeau said there was plenty of accommodation for those wanting to help, with some places offering free or discounted rates for volunteers.

The mayor of Westland District Council, Bruce Smith, said discussions would take place today about whether to apply for government funding for the clean-up, via Civil Defence or the Ministry for the Environment.

Associate Minister for the Environment Eugenie Sage said more information was needed on the extent of the rubbish that had been spread around region after the flooding.

Ms Sage visited the area over the weekend and said reports of rubbish being spread as far as Milford Sound may not be correct.

She said the rubbish seemed to be concentrated in a 50km area.

Local councils were ultimately responsible for the site but government assistance was available if required, she said.

"The Environment Ministry, there was an official [there] on Friday with me, he will report back to the agency. There's a contaminated sites fund, which [David] Parker has responsibility for, and if the Westland District Council makes a call on that, that application will be seriously considered."

Bridge to reopen by end of the week

The replacement for the Waiho River bridge washed away in the flooding will be open at the end of this week.

The bridge on State Highway 6 that connects Franz Josef to Fox Glacier will be ready just in time for the school holidays.

Transport Agency system manager Pete Connors said repair work had to be carried out from the riverbed, and there had been other challenges.

Repairs involved replacing a missing pier, fixing the others, "doing designs on the hoof" and permanently reinstating the protection work, he said.

"The Bailey bridge has been in there since 1991 and it's likely that will continue to be the semi-permanent solution.

"It's a very difficult site and there's no certainty where a bridge would even go."

Mr Connors said the riverbed wore away about about 2m every 10 years. The bridge had been lifted twice and lengthened twice since 1991.

"Because it's so easy to lengthen and raise at any one time that's been the solution there for the last 20 years or so."

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