Gisborne surf club at 'panic stations' over woody debris

4:37 pm on 15 December 2022
Debris on Waikanae/Midway beach

Piles of woody debris line Waikanae Beach in Gisborne. Photo: LDR / Gisborne Herald / Liam Clayton

The clearance of woody debris from popular Tairāwhiti beaches will continue this summer following a district council meeting on Thursday afternoon.

Every year around Labour Weekend, Gisborne District Council carries out an annual clean-up of city and Ūawa beaches, removing trees and woody debris that have washed out to sea during storms.

But this year the council budgeted to only clear the most-used sections of the beach, leaving behind piles of debris between Waikanae and Midway surf clubs.

Their efforts prompted Waikanae Surf Life Saving Club manager Clara Wilson to write an impassioned letter to key figures at the council - including mayor Rehette Stoltz - about issues the club was facing as a result.

Those included injuries from woody debris and a lack of accessibility to sections of the beach at high tide.

Wilson said the club had recently bought an all-terrain vehicle to extend its patrol area but was restricted by the woody mess.

"As an example of our concerns … a guard saw swimmers getting pulled out by strong surf. The quickest way to reach those swimmers would have been in the all-terrain vehicle.

"At high tide this would not have been possible."

The club was at "panic stations" over the woody debris and she asked for council staff to visit the beach, take their shoes off and discuss how they can fix the problem.

In response the council added a late item to today's full council meeting, seeking a decision on a further clean-up.

Beach Grooming - Woody debris on Gisborne beaches

A tractor could be seen grooming a cleared section of the beach earlier today. Photo: LDR / Gisborne Herald / Liam Clayton

Councillors were to be presented with three options - do nothing beyond the current removal, undertake a controlled clean-up or complete a full removal of debris.

They voted for the second option - a partial clean-up, at a cost of $52,000.

The report said clean-ups already came at a considerable cost and the process required strict resource consent conditions.

The council has spent an average of $200,000 a year on removing debris but last year's came in at $360,000.

Wood strewn across the beachline looking out across Waikanae Beach towards Eastland Port.

Wood strewn across the beachline looking out across Waikanae Beach towards Eastland Port last summer. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

So far this season it has already spent $250,000, split almost evenly between Ūawa and Gisborne city beaches and focusing on high visitor areas.

If the council decided not to spend additional money on cleaning up the beaches, the report said it would fail to meet some of the community's expectations for how the beaches should look, and health and safety.

The $52,000 option to stack up debris between Grey Street and Midway would provide clearer access at high tide as well as dune protection, but would provide no visual improvement.

The final option - a $165,000 additional spend - would allow undisrupted beach access but could cause unease from the wider ratepaying community in regard to spending without a policy position, the report said.

Council staff are developing a draft policy position for beach clean-ups which will be put before councillors next year.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.

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