Federated Farmers is calling on the Government to urgently establish an inquiry into the factors that contributed to flooding and associated infrastructure damage from ex-tropical Cyclone Hale, saying the same mistakes cannot happen again.
Feds national board member and former Gisborne-Wairoa president, Toby Williams says nothing can be done about heavy rain, but more needs to be done to lessen its impact.
“More than 300mm of it on our farm, that’s a quarter of our annual rainfall in January so far and the month isn’t over,” said Mr Williams.
In a letter to Emergency Management, Forestry and Associate Environment Ministers, Federated Farmers said residual woody material/slash left in situ after exotic forestry harvesting was a significant contributing factor to increased damage caused by flood waters.
This information, they say, needs to be part of a brief to an inquiry team.
Local ratepayers can’t afford the huge bill to repair roads and bridges year after year, said Mr Williams.
He said tens of thousands of hectares of trees were planted on highly erodible land in the province in the wake of Cyclone Bola in 1988, to help stabilise the slopes.
“Now those trees are being harvested, re-exposing those slopes. The storms haven’t changed – in fact they’re more frequent. And they are exposing current harvesting practices and the detrimental effects they are having on downstream catchments and communities.”
“Under current government settings, mass planting of exotics is being encouraged, especially in our region. If, as we are being led to believe, they are all going to be harvested, then there needs to be an urgent rethink on how and where we harvest to ensure we will not repeat the issues when the next cycle of logging looms,” Mr Williams says.
He says, however, forestry operators have “lifted their game”.
“They’re very aware of the problem. They’ve improved and to be fair to them, like everyone else they’re keen to see some blue skies.”
“It’s not always anybody’s fault when slopes fail. But if it is skid failure [temporary trails in logging areas], and things like that, then we have to ask questions about those practices that were supposed to have changed after the devastation of the 2018 storm.
“We need to get some inspectors up in the air and observe where all the debris has come from, and then what our pathway is going to be going forward.”
The letter to Ministers recommends meetings with Tairāwhiti landowners and residents, and with Gisborne District Council.
“Gaining the community’s view on where they see themselves in the future will be key to improving the long-term economic, social and environmental sustainability of the region,” the letter states.