Marlborough Express

Residents relieved by forestry road solution


Residents facing up to three weeks stuck in their valley during roadworks say they are ‘‘very grateful’’ to learn they can drive out on a forestry track.

Kokorua Rd connects a dozen households to State Highway 6 at Whangamoa, in the hills between Marlboroug­h and Nelson, close to where the heaviest rain fell during severe flooding in August.

A seven-week roadworks programme starting on Tuesday will block residents from being able to drive out of the valley on SH6 for possibly up to three weeks, which had farmers wondering how to feed stock, commuters worried about keeping their jobs, and families concerned about school drop-offs and emergency access.

Residents had pinned their hopes on private forestry tracks as alternate routes around the roadworks.

However, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency said on Sunday tracks on the Marlboroug­h side of Kokorua Rd were too flood-damaged to use.

But four days later Waka Kotahi regional manager Mark Owen confirmed Tasman Pine Forest and landowner Nga¯ti Koata would allow 12 daily escorted convoys on their forestry road on the Nelson side of the Whangamoa hills, connecting with the highway at Hira.

Kokorua Rd resident and Rai Valley fire chief Nigel Patterson said he was grateful for the access.

‘‘The kids will be able to go to school, [wife] Jess will be able to get to work without having to stay in Nelson. We’ve got a small business, so it means we can get our stock out,’’ Patterson said.

‘‘I’ve got a major surgery on November 3 so it means I can actually come home. We would have had to stay in Nelson otherwise. So I’m really grateful.’’

Patterson said for some neighbours, being able to drive to Nelson meant they could keep their jobs.

Nelson City Council contractor­s were just finishing up their remedial work in the Whangamoa River beside his property which had become so full of debris following the August flood that every time there was moderate rain, rocks and branches washed through his paddocks.

Nelson MP Rachel Boyack said she wanted to add her thanks to Nga¯ti Koata and Tasman Pine Forests on behalf of her constituen­ts. ‘‘Without that access we would have had some very serious animal welfare issues, and logistical issues for people who live and work in those areas.’’

However, some residents were still facing very difficult circumstan­ces, she said.

There were people living in the Kokorua area that normally travelled to Rai Valley for work. Even with access to Nelson, they would be looking at a four-hour trip to Rai Valley via St Arnaud.

One of Boyack’s constituen­ts was looking at staying in Marlboroug­h during the week for work and travel the long way home for weekends.

Owen said Waka Kotahi accepted the work put some residents in a difficult situation, but there were no easy options for repairing the vulnerable highway.

The gravel forestry road was safe but narrow and steep, Owen said. The trip would take about 40 minutes.

‘‘Our aim is to run 12 convoys daily – three each way in the morning and three each way in the afternoon/evening.’’

The closure from Hira to Ronga Rd was to start at 6am on Tuesday and would end on December 18, in time for the busy Christmas holiday period.

The alternate route from Blenheim to Nelson was on State Highway 63 through to Kawatiri junction, then SH6.

Waka Kotahi recommende­d motorists stay on the highways rather than local roads which were not well suited to all vehicles and higher traffic volumes.

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