De­tails wanted on gorge plan

The Tribune (NZ) - - FRONT PAGE - PAUL MITCHELL

The two re­gional coun­cils af­fected by the clo­sure of the road through the Manawatu Gorge are de­mand­ing a de­tailed plan about what the Gov­ern­ment in­tends to do.

They want an­swers about why a per­ma­nent fix has taken so long, but are ‘‘rapt’’ some­thing is fi­nally hap­pen­ing.

Last Tues­day, Trans­port Min­is­ter Si­mon Bridges con­firmed the Gov­ern­ment was look­ing for a per­ma­nent fix to the on­go­ing threat of slips clos­ing State High­way 3 through the Manawatu Gorge.

The NZ Trans­port Agency had ear­lier an­nounced it had in­vited three or­gan­i­sa­tions to sub­mit ten­ders to in­ves­ti­gate long-term op­tions.

But top of­fi­cials from Hawke’s Bay and Hori­zons re­gional coun­cils have crit­i­cised the state­ments as vague, say­ing such work should have al­ready been un­der way.

Ten­ders for the work close in mid-Au­gust and a fi­nal rec­om­men­da­tion is ex­pected in De­cem­ber. This would then go out for pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion and a per­ma­nent fix is ex­pected within three years.

Hawke’s Bay coun­cil deputy chair­man Rick Barker said his coun­cil wel­comed the com­mit­ment to find­ing a sta­ble al­ter­na­tive route, but ‘‘lamented’’ the lack of de­tail on the pos­si­ble op­tions.

The re­gion de­served a ‘‘de­fin­i­tive state­ment’’ lay­ing out a fully-de­tailed plan, he said.

Barker said the Gov­ern­ment had been aware of the prob­lems with the gorge for more than 20 years, and ac­tion should have been taken long ago.

Hori­zons chair­man Bruce Gor­don said he agreed with Barker’s con­cerns and crit­i­cisms and added the Gov­ern­ment should have known this was com­ing and been more pre­pared.

If the Gov­ern­ment had been more se­ri­ous about, and quicker to act on, prom­ises to up­grade the al­ter­na­tive routes af­ter the last ma­jor slip, there would be less of a prob­lem now, he said.

‘‘I’m rapt some­one is fi­nally se­ri­ously look­ing at a long-term solution, but we’ve had five years, it should have been up to stan­dard by now.‘‘

Barker and Gor­don was also con­cerned about the state of the al­ter­na­tive roads while the gorge route was closed.

‘‘I per­son­ally came over the Sad­dle hill last week and thought I would break an axle,’’ Barker said.

Trans­port agency re­gional trans­port sys­tems man­ager Ross I’An­son told a Woodville pub­lic meet­ing this month only a gen­eral out­line was avail­able un­til a de­tailed busi­ness case on the op­tions was put to­gether.

Sev­eral per­ma­nent fixes for the Manawatu Gorge were con­sid­ered in 2012, af­ter the last ma­jor slip closed the road for more than a year. They ranged from a tun­nel to a new road near the Te Apiti wind farm, but all were ul­ti­mately shelved.

Bridges has said the ex­pert ad­vice at the time was those op­tions were tech­ni­cally dif­fi­cult and risky, so the safest course was to clear the road and re­open the gorge.

But cir­cum­stances had now changed and work­ers were pulled out of the gorge in early July over safety con­cerns about a large area of un­sta­ble rock face.

New Zealand Trans­port Agency spokes­woman Liz Banas said an $8.5 mil­lion up­grade to the Sad­dle Rd was un­der way when the first slip came down in April.

Mean­while, on Fri­day two safety no­tices were is­sued for the gorge area.

Hori­zons ad­vised the pub­lic to stay clear of the Manawatu River, be­tween Bal­lance Bridge and the Ash­hurst Bridge due to a high risk of fall­ing rocks.

And the Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion has closed an east­ern sec­tion of the Manawatu Gorge track to re­place a bridge.

PHOTO: DAVID UN­WIN/STUFF

The Manawatu Gorge has been closed since a large slip dam­aged the road in April.

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