10 Apr 2019

Waiho River stopbank to be rebuilt within two weeks

8:31 am on 10 April 2019

West Coast Regional Council has given the go-ahead to rebuild the Waiho River stopbank destroyed in the flooding two weeks ago.

The Waiho Bridge on State Highway 6.

The Waiho Bridge on State Highway 6 washed away after torrential rain battered the West Coast for two days. Photo: Wayne Costello / DOC

Last month's storm cut power, closed roads and destroyed the Waiho Bridge linking Franz Josef and Fox Glacier on State Highway 6.

The regional council had been considering removing the Waiho River's stopbanks at Franz Josef and letting it revert to its old flood plain, potentially swallowing up thousands of hectares of farmland.

The Westland District Council and locals were vehemently opposed to the idea unless central government was prepared to stump up millions in compensation.

Regional councillor Allan Birchfield confirmed the council had decided to allow the lower Waiho stopbank to be reconstructed, saying it was "the right thing to do".

"These people have had a stopbank down there protecting their properties for the last 37 years. There's a rating district, we collect money off them to maintain this bank, it was washed out in the big flood two weeks ago, so we're putting it back up again," he said.

Mr Birchfield said the people were paying rates, they wanted the stopbank rebuilt and the regional council were obliged to do that.

The councillor said there had been talk about removing all of the stopbanks and letting the Waiho River revert to its old flood plain, "but it's from these academics who've decided that we shouldn't have stopbanks".

He said there were a lot of stopbanks around New Zealand, millions had been spent putting them up and they were protecting thousands of people.

"You can't just decide overnight we're not putting stopbanks up again, that's just stupidity," Mr Birchfield said.

He said people on the Waiho floodplains would have to be bought out if all the stopbanks were removed and the river was allowed to flood, but local MP Damien O'Connor had "made it quite clear there would be no buy out, so we've got to put the banks back up".

Mr Birchfield said it was a unanimous council decision, the work was to start immediately, and a resource consent was in place for it to go ahead.

He said the stopbank should be rebuilt in the next two weeks.

"There's locals down there with machinery and they know how to rebuild banks. They'll do a very good job".

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs