The rain came down – and so did the debris from logging operations in the flood-damaged Gisborne region

 Buzz from the Beehive

Damien O’Connor, as Minister for Rural Communities, has broken his 2023 duck and issued his first press statement of the year to announce government support for flood-affected farmers and growers in the Gisborne region.

We have yet to hear from Forestry Minister Stuart Nash, but he is bound to have something to say – surely – about the mischief reportedly done by forest companies operating in that neck of the woods. The “slash” from their logging operations blocks rivers and exacerbates the flooding problems caused by heavy rain.

O’Connor’s statement, which kicked off with the language employed by earnest bureaucrats, was headed

Government support for flood-affected Gisborne Tairāwhiti farmers and growers

It began: 

Rural Communities Minister Damien O’Connor has classified this week’s Cyclone Hale that caused significant flood damage across the Tairāwhiti/Gisborne District as a medium-scale adverse event, unlocking Government support for farmers and growers.

A medium-scale adverse event? What measures are applied when making such a determination?

As for “unlocking” government support for farmers and growers, the question of whether enough support has been unlocked is only too apparent.

“We’re making up to $100,000 available to help coordinate efforts as farmers and growers recover from the heavy rain and subsequent flood damage across the Tairāwhiti region,” Damien O’Connor said.

It’s worth noting that in these inflationary times (as Stuff reports) a controversial crossing and speed limit lowering in the capital city has cost $2.4 million in a bid to improve safety near Wellington’s airport and the ASB Sports Centre, although more than $500,000 went to  consultants.

At Kiwiblog, David Farrar tartly commented:

Incredible. They have to install a couple of traffic lights and paint some lines on the road and it costs not $25,000, not $250,000 but $2.4 million.

The clean-up costs in the Gisborne region have yet to be assessed but are likely to be vastly greater than the cost of the traffic safety measures in Wellington.

As O’Connor acknowledged:

“The effects of Cyclone Hale follow hard on the heels of other recent storm clean-ups in the region, compounding stresses for those involved.

“It’s important to help those farmers and growers now facing a big clean-up effort after the storm dumped over 200mm of rain over 24 hours in some parts of the district.”

The funding announced today is intended to help in the clean-up, enable one-on-one mentoring support, strengthen local connection through gatherings and events to support the region’s recovery.

Besides the funding, Inland Revenue has activated its Adverse Event Income Equalisation Scheme for the Gisborne District. This will enable farming and forestry businesses to even out income fluctuations by spreading their gross income from year to year.

The government will continue to assess whether further support is needed, such as Enhanced Taskforce Green for clean-up, as the full extent of the storm damage becomes more apparent over the coming weeks, O’Connor said.

The Ministry for Primary Industries will work closely with adverse event networks and sector groups to monitor the storm’s impact, determine where the need is and how the funding will be allocated, he said.

A state of emergency remains in place across the district and many roads remain closed.

The full extent of damage will take days to be revealed, O’Connor said, but

“… it is clear there have been significant effects on some farms in the region, with silt and woody debris piled up and multiple roads closed.

“The debris on farms, hill slippage, road closures and damage to culverts, farm tracks and other infrastructure, means farmers and growers will face many months of work to get back on track.”

Mention of “woody debris” brings forestry and (we would like to think) Stuart Nash into the picture.

One News reported a Tairāwhiti resident as saying her home would not have flooded if a sea of logs had not blocked a nearby river during heavy rain.

The logs – called slash – are the waste products from forestry operations and are an ongoing problem for the East Coast.

There are forestry works up the valley from her home, and she was furious the debris had blocked the river and endangered people – especially because it’s not the first time this has happened.

In April last year, former Gisborne district councillor Manu Caddie voiced concerns about tonnes of logs and debris clogging waterways, after photos showed a river jammed near Anaura Bay.  He hoped loggers would be more tightly regulated.

RNZ at that time reported the debris created by logging had been an ongoing problem for the East Coast after heavy rainfalls.

In June 2018, the Gisborne District Council prosecuted 10 companies for slash following similar rain events, the first two of which were fined a combined total of over $500,000.

Several other companies had subsequently been fined, and an email obtained by Local Democracy Reporting showed at least one case was still ongoing at that time.

Makorori resident Margaret Hansen said it was the second time in her 42 years of residence she had seen debris accumulate over a 3km stretch of the beach.

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