Next stage for Matatā '15-year ordeal'

4:59 pm on 15 April 2020

A week after commissioners decided the fate of Awatarariki residents, Whakatāne District Council has reflected on what it has learned from the saga.

Torrential rain in may 2005 washed boulders, logs and other debris down a flooded stream, badly damaging properties in Matata .

In May 2005 a torrential downpour washed boulders, logs and other debris down the flooded Awatarariki Stream, destroying 27 homes. Photo: GNS

Councillors received a report on the decision at an extraordinary council meeting held last Thursday - the first official council meeting to be conducted via Zoom.

Commissioners confirmed the council's position on the danger of future debris flows to residents living on the Awatarariki fanhead at Matatā, and agreed with the appropriateness of the plan changes intended to extinguish resident's existing use rights.

Councillor Lesley Immink asked managers if, at any stage, councillors would get a vote on the future of residents or if it was "out of their hands now".

General manager planning and finance David Bewley said the previous council had already delegated authority to the commissioners, and the decision the commissioners made was on the council's behalf.

Manager strategic projects Jeff Farrell said if residents appealed the decision to the Environment Court, councillors might need to vote to adopt any recommendations made there. However, this was essentially a formal adoption process.

Councillor Gavin Dennis said while it was important to acknowledge council staff's hard work it was also important to acknowledge the ongoing emotional strain the process had caused affected residents.

Councillor Gerard van Beek said although he disagreed with some of what was said in the report, he thought it was very well-written and he hoped residents would take up the council's acquisition offer.

Councillor Nandor Tanczos asked what the decision and lockdown meant for the managed retreat process.

Farrell said the timeline for the managed retreat had already been pushed out to 31 May and the council had already acquired 17 properties in the fanhead, 10 of which had homes on them.

Further mediation was held last Friday for eight properties and he said the council would be returning to those property owners with a revised offer on Tuesday.

He said the government had indicated it would not supply funds to purchase homes in the next financial year, but it had agreed to supply funds for the open space development of acquired properties, as this would take longer and involve community input.

"This will be transformational for the Matatā community," Farrell said.

"You can already start to see it happening now that some houses have been removed. But it needs time to be worked through in a comprehensive way."

Councillor Victor Luca questioned what lessons council had learned from the residents' "15-year ordeal".

He said the council was likely to be in the same position again due to climate change and urged councillors to think to the future.

After praising Luca's question, chief executive Stephanie O'Sullivan said the government needed to come up with a national framework for councils that might find themselves in a situation like this.

She said it was "difficult and unsustainable" for councils to be left to make decisions like this on their own.

Mayor Judy Turner said in the future council should be careful when, in the middle of a crisis, it made promises on what it could fix.

She said the council spent a significant amount of money and carried debt to investigate engineering options to the debris flow risk which were simply not viable.

"We need to be careful at the beginning on what we promise to do," she said.

At the council meeting, councillors also accepted half-yearly reports from the Local Government Funding Agency and the Bay of Plenty Local Authority Shared Services.

Council also resolved to delay consultation on District Plan Change 3 due to the current nationwide lockdown.

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