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‘We Just Need A Road’: Finding A Position On Broken Sounds Route

Who should pay for the repair of a long and winding road into the Marlborough Sounds is dividing locals.

Kenepuru Rd, a lifeline for remote residents, was severely damaged in rainstorms in 2021 and 2022.

The Sounds are still waiting for a $230m repair job, with about $104m to be covered by Marlborough ratepayers.

Kenepuru sheep and cattle farmer Tony Redwood says ideally that $104m would be split 50-50 between Sounds residents and the other Marlborough ratepayers, but he and his wife Joy were so “desperate” to have the road repaired they were willing to pay more.

However the residents should get a fair say in how the repairs are done, Redwood says.

“If they're going to lump the ones that have got larger properties, then they should have a fair say in how the road is going to be repaired, and it has to be up to truck and trailer standard,” he said.

Consultation on the funding split started on Thursday.

Redwood said more than 40 years ago, the Kenepuru farming community pushed for the road to spread further into the Sounds, in order to service the farms.

Only twice since then had rainfall made the road unusable, and only for up to four days, until the 2021 rainstorm happened, he said.

If Kenepuru Rd had been maintained better, it would have reduced the amount of damage from the storm, Redwood said.

“We've had coming up three years [of] not being able to do much on the road, and it has cost us a lot of money, and lost money.

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"We need a road. We need it fixed, and we're prepared to help with our rates.”

[SUB HEAD] The who-pays-what question

The Marlborough District Council says its preferred option is to have Sounds residents pay more than other ratepayers, with the Sounds broken into zones so residents needing the most expensive work pay the most. The biggest repair bill was for the Kenepuru Sound, estimated to cost about $90m.

According to the consultation document released last week, with figures slightly refined since February, the average Kenepuru ratepayer would pay $56.49 on top of their rates in 2025-26, compared to $11.71 for the average non-Sounds resident, increasing each year until 2034, when Kenepuru ratepayers would pay $1,224.15 on average, and non-Sounds residents $247.37.

Some large farms and forestry blocks, with a land value of $900,000, could be paying about $3000 by 2034.

While Sounds residents would pay more, since most ratepayers lived outside the Sounds, non-Sounds ratepayers would actually cover 71% of the $104m bill.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow for Russell McConchie.

His property in Kenepuru, about halfway between Te Mahia and Portage, was initially “red stickered“ as uninhabitable after the 2022 flood, but that had been downgraded to a yellow sticker.

Power to the property had only been switched back on recently, and he couldn’t stay at the property when it rained.

“We're paying rates on a yellow-stickered property, which is going to go up,” he says.

"We have stayed out there overnight, we’re allowed to now with provisions.

“To get a huge rates increase, when the value of our house is actually zero, it doesn’t sit well.

“Council doesn’t value it at zero, of course.”

He pointed out that while Kenepuru ratepayers missed out on services enjoyed by other ratepayers, they were meant to be getting road maintenance from the council.

“Now they want us to stump up another $1000 for rates a year [from 2029], really? So, we’re not happy.

“It's divisive. MDC are wiping their hands of the whole lot.”

[SUB HEAD] Preferred option a ‘dangerous precedent’

Kenepuru Ratepayers Association treasurer Stefan Schulz says he’s “a little bit flabbergasted” having seen the options put forward by the council.

“It's just unbelievable,” Schulz says.

“What happens if a bridge in Waihopai Valley, or Wairau Valley, washes out? Do they, the residents, then have to pay a higher cost for the repair ... or is it paid by everyone?

“I fully understand that they are trying to get this over the line, but that’s the danger with this proposal.”

Schulz says he’s lucky he’s not a farmer.

“The poor farming community out here, they are really bleeding through their noses, because they can't use trucks to get stock or fertiliser in or out.

“I know someone even further out, he says he had a shipping of sheep that went out on a barge, and it cost him, believe it or not, $8000.”

Maryanne Tipler has had her property in Kenepuru since 2002, and has lived there permanently since 2013.

“They talk about it [Kenepuru Rd] being mainly for residents, but I walk along that road almost every day and I can tell you right now that it is not just residents that drive along that road," Tipler says.

“There's hunters, there's campers, there's people just coming out to have a look, there's people coming out for a swim.

“It would be such a shame if the road wasn't fixed because the residents can't really front up with the millions.”

The options on the table are out for consultation as part of the 2024/34 long-term plan. Submissions are open until May 13.

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ on Air.

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