Environment Waikato has begun building flood protection works along the west bank of the Waikato River between Mercer and Meremere to protect about 356 hectares of low lying land from flooding and improve drainage.
The $1.1 million four year project includes construction of stopbanks and floodgates in three compartments. Part of the work – the Morrison Rd floodgate – is almost complete, and stopbank construction is due to start next year to take advantage of excess soil from the Transit New Zealand’s four-laning of State Highway One.
The Council is contributing 25 percent of the costs, with landowners having to meet the balance. While the majority of landowners have agreed to this, there are a number who have yet to sign the funding agreements.
All of the landowners in the northern compartment have agreed to the work. There will be further discussion with the three landowners in the Morrison Rd compartment who have not signed but if no agreement was reached, the Committee recommended that the Council proceed with the special order process and rating, since landowners holding 91 percent of the land had agreed.
In the southern compartment, the Maori Trustee manages two lots of land on behalf of 34 landowners, amounting to 25 percent of the area. These landowners have stated that they cannot afford the costs, they do not see any benefit from the works, and believe the flooding is caused by stopbanking the river upstream and power developments.
This week’s Operations Committee was told that removing the section until all landowners signed would have severe consequences for the farming community. Removing the Maori land from the compartment would increase the rate by almost $100 a hectare and threaten the viability of the scheme.
Cr David Peart said the value of the land would soar when protection was complete as at the moment the properties were not protected, and other owners saw the development potential once the work was done. The scheme was not viable without that part of the land.
“Staff need to liaise further with the owners and investigate the possibility of a lower standard of protection if that would be acceptable to the other landowners.”
Cr Jim Howland said he hoped a lower standard would be a last resort.
“The Council has to draw a line in the sand and say it can’t expose the general ratepayers to any more of this cost. We should also talk to the Maori Trustee.”
Cr Andra Neeley questioned why one group should compromise all the other people who were prepared to pay.
“If one group says it is not prepared to join the real world we cannot walk away. We are for it going ahead and need to find a way with the landowners to make it work. We should endorse the stopbanks and find a mechanism to include these landowners.”
The Committee recommended further discussions with the landowners concerned and asked staff to report back to the next meeting.