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Protecting what we have

It was exciting to see the large diggers and the transformation of the estuary inlet/outlet of Taputapatea Stream at Buffalo Beach at the close of last week. It means that the water can flow. To protect long-term our vulnerable towns from an unknown future is still ahead of us. It is not easy working with changing sculptures of the sand and Cyclones Hale and Gabriel of early 2023 moved a huge amount of sand preventing easy flow and halting the direction of the water course. The resulting fact of the creek not flowing and the consequent build up of growth along the banks has crowded the stream, creating potential dire situations for the nearby homes if a spate of heavy rainfall and high seas occurs.
 |  Pauline Stewart  | 

This landscaping of the stream mouth is a big start to relieving this situation. The CounciI is also preparing to clear out all trees and shrubs except for Pohutakawa from Taputapuatea Spit.

Everyone is grateful for this work organised by Thames Coromandel District Council. It is one part of a long coastline but a key one, as State Highway 25 is close by and at sea level.

Long term solutions require more work. But a starting place is to understand that many  long-term predicaments and situations have not received attention – maintenance or infrastructural development – over a very long period. There is no gain or progress in blame but acknowledgement and a plan of action that affirms, enables and equips residents is a good basis for progress to face unknown and uncertain futures.

The cyclones and heavy rainfall of 2023 have exacerbated the issues facing many homes and parts of well-travelled and necessary roads around Coromandel Peninsula but the risk of flooding and erosion was always there. It is now heightened and front and centre because of the changing weather patterns and further ramped up to critical status in some places because of no proper restoration work followed by necessary infrastructural development that would ensure security for an undefined future period.

The predicament of a relatively small number of houses just beyond the Whitianga town centre is a reflection of the issues facing many communities on the Coromandel Peninsula.

These houses are near the coast and also near a creek or creeks that intersect with the coast or run parallel to the coast. These homes are generally close to a main highway. In Coromandel Peninsula’s case – SH 25.

Jack (substitute for his real name) believes he has a solution to the situation facing his home and that of his neighbours.

Some maintenance and a small build project can protect what we have

Their lower floor was flooded with Cyclone Hale and then Gabriel.  Others homes close by suffered the same.

Jack, who has had a lifetime of experience with drainage and fixing water problems in homes and backyards, has prepared what he thinks is a solution to not just protect his home, but that of his neighbours and also the landward side of Buffalo Beach Road which is also State Highway 25 – major arterial route for the Coromandel. The protection would be from storm water and storm (ocean) surges – sustained heavy rainfall and high seas.

He has proposed a bund or embankment about a metre to metre and half high from near Taputapuatea Spit to follow a route along the bank of the creek behind their homes and meeting with higher land near a larger water course, Taputapuatea Stream or Mother Browns Creek (MBC). There are two creeks in this scenario and as pointed out in The Informer February 27, MBC was not flowing – too much bank growth and not sufficient clearing of the outlet to the sea.

The smaller creek or storm water drain which runs behind their homes actually runs in front of another line of homes for which it acts as a storm water drainage channel. The Pacific Estate housing development has added more homes to the number of existing properties serviced by this channel, but nothing has been done to add to the capacity to take extra storm water or even regular run-off.  This storm water drain or smaller creek runs from near the Whitianga town centre across to Racecourse Road and then along behind the houses connected with Jack’s proposal and then close to Taputapuatea Stream or MBC.

The land for the new subdivision housing has been built up to prevent flooding, but all the runoff has to flow somewhere and it all flows into this storm water release drain which has not been extended since construction and is woefully inadequate. It did not cope with the heavy rainfall and storms of 2023 and since then it has not even been maintained, let alone deepened and enlarged. Jack’s plan would need to include development of the storm water channel. Some of it needs concreting and some needs to be piped rather than being an open channel. It is certainly an eye-sore and in our Health and Safety focussed culture, it is somewhat dangerous as there are no protection fences to be seen and, in a storm, it would be extremely vulnerable. (This channel maintenance and upgrade is in the Works list for 2025 in the current LTP, quite a period of time since the flooding of 2023).

For the council to allow and even enable this development, the infrastructure required for extra flow has to be catered for and not doing so results in no protection for the homes already there. This stop bank or bund would also protect some of the council infrastructure. (This photo also in 27 February issue). It will hold the water back and enable it to be channelled to where the water is already flowing and away from the homes.

At the time it was proposed, which was not long after the floods, TCDC staff were quite enthusiastic. There were many flooded and eroded places they were called to visit. It was the council staff person who commented that this embankment or bund plan would protect some of TCDC infrastructure.

It was mentioned at the time that a Resource Consent would be needed – normal procedure. The sticking point would be if there is a chance of anyone else being flooded as a result of the proposed construction of the stopbank. The Holiday Camp is further down on the same side of Buffalo Beach Road. The proposal of employing a coastal scientist at that point was discussed but no one knows what has happened with that which would mean a bigger spend and a lot more time taken.

As an aside, since then, the Holiday Camp has had to raise the level of their site and engineer their own solution regarding drainage as their livelihood was critical. They did not wait for a Resource Consent.

At the start of these discussions about a solution, jack and the residents did some research and got a costing of around $10,000 to do the stopbank, but that was without the cost of consultation with a coastal scientist, a Resource Consent application, and the work required for the storm water channel. (The Resource Consent application has not even been prepared).

It is logical that some bureaucracy is needed but with the overlays of DOC, WRC, Waka Kotahi – Transit New Zealand, and TCDC all converging on a small area along Buffalo Beach Road, it could be understood why there appears to be paralysis and a lack of perceived action. However, when there is action as with the work done by the diggers to open up the outlet/inlet of Mother Brown’s Creek, people are grateful.

Everyone knows that no long-term future can be guaranteed. But action to protect what we already have for some of the foreseeable events creates a more hopeful and co-operative community.

Waikato Regional Council website states:

“Good river management protects our property and land from damage. Waikato regional council and landowners have responsibilities to maintain and protect our waterways. Working together ensures our rivers are healthy and well managed. A river’s flow and course can be affected by bank erosion and the build up of debris, silt or gravel…….”

Editor’s Note: WRC Councillor Warren Maher had been in touch with The Informer and has stated that attention will be given to this storm water matter in the short term.