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Stressed Landowners On Tenterhooks For Budget Confirmation

Eroded dairy pasture land on the lower Waiho Flat after the Waiho River cut a fresh path in mid-2022. PICTURE: Brendon McMahon

31 May 2024

Flood stricken landowners and the West Coast Regional Council are on tenterhooks today on the promise of new funding for Franz Josef under $400m of new protection money announced in the Budget. 

The council's Waiho River south and north banks project has been named as "ready for" the first tranche of the Regional Infrastructure Fund initial allocation in 2024-25.

However whether council gets the $10m it has been seeking in the past year in ongoing discussions with Government officials is not yet clear.

Council chief executive Darryl Lew initially said today a $6m allocation under the new fund was confirmed.

However staff later contacted LDR and said they "might have jumped the gun".

And Minister Shane Jones' office this morning said they did not know the individual project details and were unable to confirm the West Coast project allocation beyond yesterday's sweeping budget statement.

Mr Lew said he understood council was to get $6m from the fund, predicated on a 40% ($4m) contribution from the landowners across the Franz Josef Special Joint Rating District.

He said bolstering the existing protection on the Waiho River south side and installing a flood forecasting and warning system was the primary focus of their $10m scheme.

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A portion would also add protection for the north bank Franz Josef sewage ponds site -- pending a district council decision to move the ponds, Mr Lew said.

Council assured Waiho River ratepayers last month it was still working to secure the release of $8.7m of money previously allocated for the area's flood protection.

The $8.7m was meant to be spent on fixing stop banks on the south side of the river at Waiho Flat after announcement of a broader $24m scheme for the area in 2020.

Subsequently the council announced its 10-year Waiho River Management Strategy in October last year after the previous Government asked for a more detailed case including retreat from the south bank.

Under the strategy, the council proposes better flood warning and protection initially before a retreat from the area in about 10 years.

Mr Lew said the $8.7m had now "gone" and money under the Regional Infrastructure Fund was "new money".

"It is predicated on a 60/40 split," he said.

"The total budget will be $10m of which 40% has to be recovered locally."

He anticipated a special meeting of the joint committee being called first to test "their commitment" to co-funding.

Waiho Flat ratepayers spokesman Dale Straight said stressed landowners on the south bank were hanging for some good news -- particularly in the wake of the October announcement.

"There's people there pretty bloody stressed and worried," he said.

If the new funding "comes to pass" then it would be a major boost.

"It's been a pigs ear in the way it's been handled," he said.

"It's got to be good news for the south side, and certainly some of the farms further down the valley that are not really covered by any protection at all."

However Mr Straight said ratepayers may not feel able to financially commit to co-funding given the drawn out process they had endured for years.

"We had that nearly $8.7m promised four years ago that then got 'unpromised'. This may go someway to replace that I suppose."

Mr Straight said the promise of "money for nothing" still had a price which might be "a big noose around our necks".

"There's a bit of water to go under the bridge yet."

Mr Lew said the new money was aligned with the first two prongs of the 10-year Waiho River Management Strategy.

That was to immediately bolster civil defence and flood warning for the people living there, and to bolster the existing protection banks.

It would still be to "buy time" before an eventual staged retreat from the river's south bank, as announced in October.

"This money is only for structural flood protection and a bit of flood warning -- it is not for managed retreat."

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