Tairāwhiti was left with a substantial amount of woody debris threatening our infrastructure, waterways and our beaches following Cyclone Gabrielle. This not only poses a threat to the safety of our community, but has also impacted on the security of our infrastructure assets and the value of our waterways.
As an immediate response, we're focused on cleaning up the silt and debris left on our beaches and in our waterways. The total amount of Central Government funds allocated to assist us with this clean-up is $31.4m.
In June, Council called for Expressions of Interest from local contractors with the capacity and equipment to extract large woody debris from waterways and beaches throughout Te Tairāwhiti. Our Journey's team have also removed slash from 77 bridges at a cost of $1.7M.
We're also developing a Woody Debris Emergency Response Plan to better manage this risk in the future.
The woody debris problem
Woody debris on our beaches is a regional problem. There’s no simple solution and as there’s no single owner of the problem, Council will have to be part of a multi-agency response.
Wood debris continues to come ashore on our beaches, either with more frequent and intense storm events or over time as vegetation makes its way into our rivers and onto the beach.
There’s still a large amount of legacy debris in our river catchments, so we will continue to experience woody debris on our beaches for some time.
Excess wood and large logs on the beach and at the shoreline pose a significant health and safety and environmental risk, as well as impacting the look and use of the beach. This is a region-wide issue.
We remind you to please keep away from logs close to the shoreline as waves can make them mobile and they’re extremely heavy.
Council's principal scientist Dr Murry Cave has been focused on studying woody debris since Cyclone Cook in 2017.
Dr Cave developed a consistent method to work out the amount and different types of wood found in the debris. This method is now standard and is used by other councils and organisations across the country.
From this, we know the volumes and source of woody debris arriving on Waikanae, Ūawa and Tikapa beaches over the past 5 years.
We also know the different tree species and have found that on average, woody debris is predominately made up of pine and that exotic willows and poplar also contribute to the debris.
We also know how woody debris migrates through the river catchments and ends up on the beach. However, more research is needed.
We want more information on the best way to manage woody debris on our beaches.
Questions like what is the best way to remove the wood? Where will we put it? Is it desirable to leave some wood to help stabilise dunes systems, and if so, where and when?
Increasing resources - our new forestry team
Cyclone Gabrielle served as a reminder of the increasing impact of climate change and the potential damage our region is open to during extreme weather events.
Given the increasing severity of weather events caused by climate change, poor forestry practices pose a significant risk to our community. We know that as part of managing these risks, Council needs to allocate more resources to effectively monitor forestry practices in our region.
Council has now increased its resources in the monitoring and compliance areas through the establishment of a new forestry team. In addition to normal compliance functions, the team will conduct both aerial mapping and on-the-ground inspections across Te Tairāwhiti to identify areas where woody debris is at high risk of mobilising and posing a risk to property, infrastructure and the environment.
To support these efforts, Council will reallocate funds from its existing 2023/24 budget. This will enable the recruitment of ecologists and technical officers to promote safe and sustainable forestry practices within Te Tairāwhiti.
Refer to our 2023/24 Annual Plan
In January 2023, Council received the petition from Mana Taiao Tairāwhiti and we agreed to:
- support request to the Government for an independent review into forestry land use
- accelerate the review of the Tairāwhiti Resource Management Plan (TRMP) rules
- investigate opportunities for participating in the first tranche of RM reforms
- establish a forestry project to assess all forests across the region for risk of debris and development of enforcement orders.
In addition to our actions already underway, Council is engaging with Ministry for the Environment on recommendations made in the independent land use report released in May 2023.
Council wants the Government to urgently overhaul the National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forests (NES-PF), which we’ve consistently opposed. It creates a permissive regulatory framework that does not work for Te Tairāwhiti.
We have work underway to change our regional policy and rules using the full range of incentives and regulatory levers we have. These include a change in land use in Tairāwhiti consistent with the direction and aspiration outlined in our spatial plan Tairāwhiti 2050
We want to work with key partners to achieve this fast . We also want Government to support a rollout of our plan change.
Council welcome an independent technical advisor to review our plan change proposals. Council requires experts to help us work in this space. And all this needs to happen at pace.
We do agree with several of the recommendations particularly in relation to:
- Halting clear-fell harvesting and transitioning highly erodible land from exotic forestry to native forest - a detailed transition and implementation plan
- Flood capacity assessments
- While out of scope the recommendations concerning the state highways, electricity supplies
- Stabilising existing gully erosion
- Land use rules that control land use activities on land with extreme erosion, riparian planting, expanding mahi mot e taiao
- Supporting the East Coast exchange
- Biodiversity credits
- Just transition plan
What we've done with past clean-ups
With more frequent and intense storm and rainfall events in the last couple of years, it's been necessary to do more beach clean-ups.
Woody debris on our beaches continues to accumulate, either through one-off storm events or incrementally over time as vegetation makes its way into our rivers and eventually onto the beach.
These have been focused on Ūawa and City beaches and cost $360,000 during the 2021/22 summer season.
It’s been necessary to do 3 clean-ups in the last 12 months.
Council spent over $320,000 in the 2022/23 financial year on beach clean-ups at Ūawa and the main city beaches. This was in addition to the cyclones Hale and Gabrielle clean-ups the forestry industry carried out.
There are limited funds available and Council is receiving increasing inquiries to assist in beach clean-ups on other beaches.
Some Eastland Wood Council members also participated and funded recent clean-ups on Ūawa and city beaches.
Historically, farmers would bring machinery to the beach for an annual clean-up prior to the summer season.
Over time it was easier for Council to do these clean-ups. Council's only previous position commitment to beach clean-ups was within the Midway Beach Management Plan (1999) which has now lapsed.
Up until now, the focus has been on beaches that have surf lifesaving clubs and are subject to build-ups of woody debris, such as Waikanae, Midway and Ūawa beaches.
Annual clean-ups continue to take place around Labour Weekend using existing resource consents to collect and remove material from both city beaches and Ūawa beach.
Council has spent on average $200,000 a year to do this over the past 4 years.
Developing a Council position
As part of the multi-agency response, the Eastland Wood Council (EWC) is engaged with Council on a long-term approach, including clean-ups of beaches.
We have no formal position on how we'll manage any future woody debris clean-up or beach grooming across the region, considering the costs and effectiveness of any approaches proposed.
Our current approach has largely been in keeping the community safe, as well as community amenity and is not consistently applied across the region. This is now required.
The position will take into account all Tairāwhiti beaches, all woody debris and will consider environmental, land ownership and administration, social, cultural, financial, health and safety and regulatory factors.