Support the Guardian

Available for everyone, funded by readers

Latest floods a 'dodged bullet'

Latest floods a 'dodged bullet'
Ashburton Mayor Neil Brown inspecting some of the debris that had built up at the Ashburton/Hakatere River bridge yesterday. PHOTO JONATHAN LEASK.

“We just dodged another bullet.”

Ashburton Mayor Neil Brown wasn’t mincing words when he renewed calls for Ashburton’s second bridge, hours after it had reopened following a second flood-related closure in two years.

The South Island was essentially cut in half for almost 12 hours after Waka Kotahi closed the State Highway 1 Ashburton/Hakatere River Bridge due to a build-up of debris on Sunday night.

It was an ‘I told you so’ moment and Brown didn’t hesitate.

“We need to do something.

“We had almost a third of our annual rainfall in 24 hours. The river got to half the flow it was two years ago and we got away lightly this time but it may not happen next time.

“We need to build some resilience into this river to keep the South Island connected.”

During the 2021 floods, the river raged at 1500 cumecs and the bridge was closed for days after a pier slumped and needed to be repaired.

The river flow peaked at 723 cumecs at the Ashburton/Hakatere SH1 bridge at 4pm on Sunday, with Waka Kotahi officially closing the 90-year-old bridge at 7pm. It reopened at 6am on Monday.

The closure was warranted, Brown said.

“It was a precautionary measure.

“They had to monitor that debris that is building up in front of the piers of the bridge and they could not do that in the dark.”

It also highlighted the need for a second river crossing in Ashburton.

The council has done all the work on the second bridge project, with its $113.6m business case sitting with Waka Kotahi.

Former Minister of Transport Michael Wood had asked the council and Waka Kotahi to discuss ‘innovative funding options’ for the project.

“We were about to present those to him but he resigned.

“We have a new minister of transport and we will be working with him to push this case further ahead.”

Government MPs, including Rangitata MP Jo Luxton and Local Government Minister Kieran McAnulty, are aware of the situation, Brown said.

“They just haven’t come out and said how they are proposing to solve the problem."

Luxton was on annual leave on Monday and deferred to McAnulty's office, as did Minister of Transport David Parker.

McAnulty said a decision on the potential funding of a second Ashburton Bridge is a work in progress.

Decisions would be made as part of the development of 2024-27 National Land Transport Programme (NLTP), he said.

"Waka Kotahi is continuing to work with the Ashburton District Council to explore potential funding options and to progress the business case for a second Ashburton bridge."

National has already pledged to build a second bridge in Ashburton in its first term if elected, but has stopped short of locking in the proposed Chalmers Avenue option.

By Jonathan Leask