Saturday, April 13, 2024

New $3.5m bridge opens in Northland

A new $3.5 million, 60-metre bridge key to the Otiria and Moerewa flood scheme has opened to traffic.

Construction of the Pokapu Rd bridge – on multiply-owned whānau land with the blessing of its shareholders – began in January after a dawn blessing ceremony late last year. Another dawn blessing ceremony attended by a number of players key to its construction was held at 5am at the site on Saturday ahead of the bridge’s official opening to traffic.

Northland Regional Councillor, Geoff Crawford says the bridge is a critical part of a scheme designed to better protect the communities of Otiria and Moerewa from the adverse impacts of flooding.

Councillor Crawford, who chairs the area’s Taumarere Flood Mitigation Working Group, says the smaller 18-metre bridge the new structure replaces acted like a dam in a flood, diverting flood waters towards Otiria and Moerewa and worsening flooding problems in the area.

The new structure has wider spans and it – and an associated spillway due to be completed before Christmas – are designed to allow three times more floodwaters to pass underneath, enabling it to cope with a once in a century flood event.

The old bridge will be removed over the next few weeks and beams salvaged from it will be repurposed at Whangārei’s Quarry Gardens.

Councillor Crawford says a large number of people and organisations had played a role in the work, paying tribute to the local community, the whānau shareholders of the Māori-owned block where the new bridge is built and local kaitiaki who had worked closely with the construction crew.

“I’d also like to acknowledge the two local marae and hapū Ngati Kopaki and Ngati Te Ara kaumatua, kuia and kaitiaki, the Far North District Council and Kānoa – Regional Economic Development & Investment Unit.”

“Lastly, but certainly not least, council recognises the hard work over many years of the Taumarere Flood Management Working Group, whose members worked closely with the local community and the Northland Regional Council to make this project happen.”

The project is part of the Resilient River Communities Programme. In 2020, Kānoa released $211m to co-fund 55 projects, collectively known as the Resilient River Communities projects, with regional and unitary councils.

Resilient River Communities is a joint initiative between Kānoa – Regional Economic Development & Investment Unit, regional councils and local authorities focused on developing and upgrading vital river management and flood protection schemes in Aotearoa. (More information about these projects can be found online at www.resilientrivers.nz )

Stage I of the Northland project – construction of the downstream section of new $1.4 million 80-metre-long spillway at Otiria – was completed last year. (Flood infrastructure is completed from downstream to upstream.)

Stage II is the now completed bridge and Stage III – now 80% complete – involves excavation of the remaining 800-metres of spillway, removal of the existing Pokapu Rd road bridge and earthworks to tie the new bridge into the wider scheme.

Councillor Crawford says an overarching aim of the project has been to restore the Otiria Stream to its natural flow, which was impeded decades ago due to the construction of Ngapipito and Pokapu Roads and Otiria’s railroad embankment.

The local community had several years ago come up with the idea of returning the water to its natural flow (as it was before any built infrastructure) and into an area historically much better able to cope with the large volumes of water which floods involved.

In previous floods this water would typically be diverted – in part by the old bridge structure and railroad – downstream to land at Otiria and Moerewa.

The works cumulatively mean that, in the event of a flood, most water will be sent down the new spillway and into the Waiharakeke River where the river is considerably wider and deeper and where the river flowed for centuries.

While floods will still occur, parts of the area previously subjected to potentially damaging and life-threatening half-metre deep floodwaters should see that reduced to just ankle height instead, Council said in a statement.

The $7 million total cost of the project is being funded 60% by Infrastructure Reference Group funding, delivered by Kānoa with another 8% met through targeted local Northland Regional Council rates, 19% through regionwide NRC rates and 13% ($1 million) from the Far North District Council’s Better Off Fund.

The new single-lane bridge and an associated footpath was built by contractors Ventia.

The project has also seen two kaitiaki employed as cultural monitors during the construction which was considered essential due to the rich Māori history and high number of sites of significance in the area. 

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