MEDIA RELEASE – 2 March 2022: WCRC writes open letter to Westport Community

Heather Mabin, Chief Executive of the West Coast Regional Council has penned a letter to the Westport
community answering many commonly asked questions that have been fielded by Elected Members and
Staff. If you have questions that have not been answered here, please contact Council at or call 0508 800 118 and let us know.

Open letter to the Westport community
I acknowledge that the past 8 months must have been extremely stressful for many Westport residents
who have faced flooding to their properties, upheaval and uncertainty over this time. I want to take this
opportunity to address some of the concerns we have been hearing.

Progress update on the Westport flood protection scheme
Flood protection for Westport is not a new topic. It has been raised by successive Councils for many years
now but there has not been sufficient appetite from the community to progress the work required. This
has now changed, and we heard the concerns of Westport residents as we consulted on the Long-term
Plan 2021 and received and read the submissions made by the community last September. Our Councilors
agreed to progress with the $10.2million flood protection project for Westport on the proviso that:
– the feedback from the community through the Long-term Plan consultation process was considered;
– the adverse effects of the flood protection project would be investigated. There was concern raised that
undertaking these works would impact have a negative impact on other property and landowners.

The consultation material set out that the first year of the project would be focused on survey and design.
That has been the work undertaken to date. Our staff have worked incredibly hard and turned this work
around well within the year timeframe proposed.

In 2014, Land River Sea Consulting created a model for the Regional Council of the Buller River including
the Orowaiti River/Lagoon. After the July 2021 weather event, the model was reviewed to compare what
happened on the ground with the accuracy of the model. The model was found to be very accurate in
predicting where water would go and at what rate.

These findings were presented to both the Regional Council and Buller District Council Councilors last
year. There appears to be a fine balance in the amount of water that should go down the river and that
which goes down the Orowaiti. Our Engineers are working closely with Land River Sea Consulting, and
other subject matter experts from Westport, on the best option with regard to the Orowaiti going
forward. We want to make sure that any changes made to this waterway does not have further
detrimental impact on property adjoining this area.

The two Councils have formed a Joint Committee, the Westport Rating District Joint Committee, to
collectively review the technical advice and make recommendations to the Regional Council on the best
options for protection. This topic will form part of the discussion at the inaugural meeting of the Joint
Committee on 3 March.

At the Buller District Council meeting on 23 February 2022, and in a separate extraordinary meeting of
the Regional Council, the Independent Chair, Hugh McMillan, and two Community representatives, Jodi
Murray and Dan Moloney, were appointed to sit on the Westport Rating District Joint Committee. The
Westport Joint Committee meetings are public and will be live streamed through the Regional Council’s
Facebook for people to watch.

There will be information available on flood modelling and progress on flood protection throughout the
Joint Committee process, and as final design and construction phases commence in the upcoming period.
This information will be available prior to each meeting on the Regional Council’s website.

Recommendations from the Joint Committee will be presented to the Council at their meeting on 8 March.
It is envisaged that there will be works that can commence immediately while resource consent is sought
for the bigger parts of the project.

Once the final programme of work has been agreed, then there will need to be negotiations with
landowners about the infrastructure that will be constructed on their properties. I estimate that land
tenure and consenting processes may take at least 6 months. It was always envisaged that once Council
approved the extensive flood protection project, that the first year would be spent on these matters.

Buller Recovery Steering Group
At the same time as we have been undertaking this preparatory work, the Buller Recovery Steering Group
are looking at an integrated package of long-term flood resilience measures that both the Buller District
Council and Regional Council can undertake. We recognise that affordability is an issue for some in the
community, so the Steering Group will be making an application in June to central government for possible
funding through a co-investment approach in June 2022.

Dredging the Buller River
We have received a number of queries as to why the Regional Council does not get on and dredge the
Buller River. Large scale gravel extraction can have unintended consequences, both upstream and
downstream of the extraction location. Regular Council monitoring has shown that the bed of the Buller
River has changed little over the past 30 years (apart from some localised build-up on various gravel

Advice from industry experts is that large scale gravel extraction from the bed of the Buller River would
require extensive ongoing investment as it would likely fill up again through a ‘fresh’, flood of a minor
nature, or from the usual river processes. It may be that this gravel would simply be flushed out in a large
event anyway. This reworking of gravel bed material is part of the natural movement of material along
river systems.

The following graph shows an example of the differences in height of the riverbed. This riverbed profile
is located downstream of the floating wharf (shown in the yellow circle) and shows the height of the
riverbed in 2017 (orange line) and in October 2021 (blue line). It shows that the river has naturally
flushed out considerable volumes of gravel.

The majority of the flooding in July 2021 came from the Orowaiti. Extracting gravel from the main river
will have little if any impact on the amount of water going down the Orowaiti overflow.

However, the matters above do not rule out any future extraction. Some removal of gravel from
beaches can be undertaken which may improve flow alignments during flood events.

Regional Council role during an event
Each Regional Council has legislated responsibilities in a civil defence event including providing suitably
trained Staff. In the July 2021 event, and both recent February events, Regional Council staff were on the
ground in Buller. Our Engineers were monitoring rivers and advising the Buller Controller on flood levels.
Staff were also activating flood response plans, monitoring rainfall and river monitoring devices to provide
advice to decision-makers and communities. We also had a large number of staff filling roles in the
Emergency Coordination Centre based in Greymouth to support Buller and the other Districts of the

The Regional Council has a designated group of people know as FRAT (Flood Risk Assessment Team), that
consists of engineers, hydrology (river and rainfall monitoring) and natural hazards Staff that are stood up
at the start of any weather event that is forming. FRAT is activated even when the weather event does
not become a ‘red’ alert. These staff interact with both MetService and NIWA to monitor and assess what
is happening.

ECAN, Otago Regional Council, Environment Southland and West Coast Regional Council have an
agreement in place to support each other during severe weather events. Additional River Engineer
assistance was sought in July 2021 from ECAN – and again just recently in February.
We have a talented and dedicated group of people that work at the Regional Council. During these
significant events they do not hesitate to step up and go the extra mile and I am very proud of them.

Heather Mabin
Chief Executive
West Coast Regional Council

Document Source: West Coast Regional Council