12 Feb 2024

Hawke's Bay farmers hopeful for Cyclone Gabrielle recovery after 'very long year'

11:45 am on 12 February 2024
Danny Bearsley  talks to Prime Minister Christopher Luxon on 11 February 2024.

Danny Bearsley meets Christopher Luxon. Photo: RNZ / Lauren Crimp

Those still in the thick of the long, slow slog cleaning up silt left by Cyclone Gabrielle are breathing a sigh of relief that more help is on the way.

The government on Sunday announced it would put $63 million towards cleaning up silt and debris in Hawke's Bay and Tai Rāwhiti.

Many farmers and orchardists are yet to return their land to productivity, hamstrung by silt smothering their properties.

On Paula Bearsley's 170-hectare family farm in rural Hastings, an abundance of fruit once grew; it had been decimated by silt, and they had 12,500 truckloads of it to clear.

"It's been absolutely overwhelming for my family, my dad and my mum have been here 48 years, and we were hit, 95 percent of what they had is gone. It's just gone," she said.

Paula Bearsley talks to Prime Minister Christopher Luxon on 11 February 2024.

Paula Bearsley talks to Prime Minister Christopher Luxon Photo: RNZ / Lauren Crimp

But after the prime minister's announcement on Bearsley's farm on Sunday she had renewed hope they could finally move forward.

"Every announcement is another step forward ... so looking forward to getting it all cleared, and getting on with our lives.

"It's been a year now, a very long year."

Until now, the Hawke's Bay Regional Council and its silt task force had been drip-fed cash - meaning work ground to a halt when funding ran out, then wound up again when the government made another contribution.

It was only enough to get about half the job done.

The government's latest instalment should mostly finish it off, but the region's leaders would be asking for more for a final mop-up, Hawke's Bay Regional Council chair Hinewai Ormsby said.

"We will go back for another conversation, and they [government] know we are to have that.

"But this $40m [for Hawke's Bay] is a huge chunk, that we've been waiting for, contractors have been waiting for. It's a brilliant result."

Hinewai Ormsby, Hawke's Bay Regional Council chair.

Hawke's Bay Regional Council chair Hinewai Ormsby. Photo: Supplied

The money would finally "get the bay moving", Hawke's Bay Fruitgrowers Association president Brydon Nisbet said.

"At the moment there's hundreds of thousands of tonnes of silt and debris still on land, piled up, they can't do anything.

"They need that silt gone so they can work up the land and then replant."

While the cash had been a long time coming, Nisbet said the new government had moved as quickly as it could.

"I don't think it's ever too late," he said.

"I think it's a good sign from this government that things are going to progress really well."

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