$15 million Awanui flood scheme upgrade a ‘game changer’

1 Jun 2018, 8:46 AM

The largest construction project ever undertaken by the Northland Regional Council – a $15 million flood scheme upgrade massively boosting flood protection in and around Kaitaia – should be underway within two years.  

The new seven-year Awanui scheme project is one of the crucial projects at the heart of the council’s new Long Term Plan (LTP) 2018-2028, which is due to be formally adopted by councillors in Whangarei on 21 June and take effect from 01 July.

Te Hiku constituency representative Mike Finlayson says the scheme is designed to protect urban Kaitaia in a ‘once in a century’ type flood event and a 1:20 year event in surrounding rural areas and will be a ‘game changer’ for the Far North town.

Flood risks will be mitigated via combination of improvements to stabilise stopbanks in the area, plus diversion of flow and works to mitigate the effect of the large, slow-moving Bell’s Hill slip falling into the nearby Awanui River and causing flooding.

“Without the protection this scheme should give us, a flood of that 1:100 year magnitude in urban Kaitaia could cause tens of millions of dollars in damage and potentially put lives at risk.”

Councillor Finlayson says the value of the Awanui work will outstrip the $11M-plus the council spent on the Hopua te Nihotetea detention dam, which officially opened two years ago and is designed to better protect Whangarei’s Central Business District from its own damaging and costly floods.

Awanui’s new capital works will be paid for in a two-pronged funding approach.  This will see 30 percent of the new works funded via a 60% increase to the existing targeted Awanui River Management Rate, bringing in an extra $442,000 annually.  The remaining 70% of the Awanui works will funded by ratepayers regionwide via a new regional flood infrastructure rate consulted on through the LTP process.

Councillor Finlayson says the Awanui rate has been in place for many years and the increase will not only help fund the new work, it will also meet the costs of ongoing capital renewal works and operational works for the scheme.

He says while there was strong support for the scheme at a local level during consultation on the LTP, Far North residents had been concerned about the burden it would place on local ratepayers.

“Council listened to those concerns, which is why we moved away from a 50/50 funding split between those affected by floods and all ratepayers in the region (as originally proposed in the LTP) to the 70/30 split, with all ratepayers covering the larger share.”

The 70/30 spilt means that for just over an extra $2 per ratepayer across the region, schemes like Awanui become much more affordable at a local level for those communities protected by existing and aging flood infrastructure work.  The spilt also reflects the wider regional benefits from having Northland’s main service hubs better protected from flooding.

Councillor Finlayson says region-wide, the millions of dollars’ worth of major new flood works planned under the new LTP will be repaid over 60 years.

“This allows us to both spread the associated costs more equitably across the multiple generations that will benefit from the work, and once again, makes them more affordable for smaller communities at the same time.”

Councillor Finlayson says the Awanui flood work is just one of a raft of new initiatives tackling water, pests and flood infrastructure councillors have agreed to as part of the 10-year plan, which chairman Bill Shepherd has already labelled as the NRC’s ‘boldest and most visionary’ LTP ever.

The council received more than 2200 submissions during an intensive month-long public feedback period on the LTP, leaving councillors impressed by public willingness to back proposals, knowing this would mean they faced bigger rates bills.

Councillor Finlayson says in the case of the Awanui scheme, the LTP is just the beginning of what will be long-running interaction with locals on the project.

“We’ll continue to engage with the wider Kaitaia community in the delivery of the works to get the best possible results and will be doing this as we progress the works over the coming years, including continuing to work with the Awanui River Flood Management Working Group.”

Councillor Finlayson publicly acknowledged the long-running working group, whose members – both past and present – had generously and selflessly given their time over many years to work on the Awanui scheme for the benefit of the wider Kaitaia community.

He says the scale and cost of the Awanui works means they will be carried out over several years from 2020 to 2027.

Meanwhile, Cr Finlayson says the Kaitaia community won’t be the only area to benefit from flood infrastructure spending via the LTP.

“Councillors also listened to the feedback on flooding issues experienced by the community at Panguru, agreeing to bring forward by five years about $440,000 of planned flood scheme work there.”

Project design and consent work – originally planned to begin in 2023 – would now happen this year, with actual construction due to begin late next year.

The Panguru work would involve building stopbanks and widening a stream channel to increase its capacity during floods.