North recovery efforts, shovel-ready, provincial growth work supported

Taking advantage of millions in government ‘shovel-ready’ funding and local COVID-19 recovery initiatives like $1M of wilding pine control are great examples of how Northlanders can support each other, the local economy and environment in challenging times, regional councillors say.

Chair Penny Smart and her fellow councillors say they’re extremely aware of the pandemic’s economic impacts on local communities, especially on top of severe drought.

This was a key driver behind council’s recent decision to modify its Annual Plan 2020/21, slashing a previously planned rates increase. (It will now cost a typical ratepayer just roughly $16.20c more in rates for the entire year from July.)

Councillors are also keen to work with government to support a range of other local economic recovery work; announced and still pending. Council is already seeking approximately $180M in central government funding for four ‘shovel-ready’ projects expected to create hundreds of jobs; Kaipara Moana remediation by reducing sedimentation, Awanui flood scheme upgrade, Panguru flood mitigation and water storage and distribution infrastructure in the Mid North (near Kaikohe) and Kaipara (near Dargaville).

While Northland has been hit hard by pandemic economic fallout, Penny says it’s well-placed to take advantage of projects designed to help lessen the resulting pressures on its people, as well as the opportunities offered by almost half a billion dollars already announced in local Provincial Growth Funding for almost 100 regional projects.

Key among these are projects in rail ($207.23M), forestry ($102.05M), roading ($29.7M), tourism ($43.29M) and water storage and management ($30.8M).

“We’re really pleased to see government funding offering not only potential economic and environmental gains, but also assisting our people back to work when this is sorely needed and by extension, helping us retain the collective skills we need to rebuild economically.”

Penny says an example is the $1M funding announced recently to control wilding pines which is expected to provide several months’ work for more than two dozen forestry workers in the Kaitāia and Dargaville areas. In a joint project with district councils and NZTA, the funding will also help remove the worst of roadside pines, making roads safer and employing more Northlanders.

Among those tackling problem wilding pines beside the Awanui River is Kaitāia-based contractor Dan O’Rourke. Dan (28) – who also operates an excavator and large skidder – and his crew of five keen local workers have already tackled more than 100 wilding pines and other unwanted trees along a roughly one-kilometre long stretch of erosion-prone riverbank. The council says removing large risky trees like these provides a valuable extra line of defence against flooding.

Man standing by large felled pine tree.

Kaitāia contractor Dan O’Rourke of OS Logging Ltd beside a massive wilding pine felled recently beside the Awanui River at Kaitāia.