The Government has made $12 million of funding available for the Silt Recovery Taskforce, however clean-up work will continue to slow down and stop at the end of this month.

[Update: Another $10 million has been committed by Government. This will carry clean-up into October. Says HBRC Chair Hinewai Ormsby: “We estimate this latest money will help us complete 50 jobs and move around 200,000m3 of sediment and debris during October. We currently have 223 jobs waiting to be completed and an estimated 1.2 million m3 of sediment and debris in the system waiting to be collected.” So that will still leave about 1 million cubes to go. The lobbying continues!]

The Taskforce was set up jointly between Hawke’s Bay Regional Council and Hastings District Council.

Last week, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said that they had reallocated $12 million of funding to the taskforce to allow it to continue its work clearing silt and debris and make sure productive land is available for the upcoming planting season.

The Hawke’s Bay Regional Council chair Hinewai Ormsby said the Regional Council understood the Government had reallocated funding from the Commercial Category Fund to the Local Authority Fund, but it still meant that silt and debris recovery work would continue to slow down, and will stop next Friday, September 29.

“The taskforce has cleared nearly 900,000 cubic metres of silt, but there is still an enormous amount of work needed to clear over 1 million cubic metres of silt, and hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste and debris,” she said.

“We will continue to advocate to government for additional funding to collect silt and debris through until the next planting season. The cost of this is estimated to be $80 million. We understand ministers are urgently exploring options to provide further funding.”

Silt Recovery Taskforce Lead Darren de Klerk said the reallocation of funding confirmed the discussions had with government officials for some months.

“Unfortunately, the $12 million reallocation won’t allow us to continue works into October 2023, but rather allows us to honour the commitments we have made with contractors and landowners to date to collect and manage sediment and debris.”

The taskforce is a significant operation dealing with huge volumes of waste as a result of the Cyclone.

“Growers are racing to get planting and spraying done for the upcoming season, and so we can’t over-stress the importance of further funding to support our landowners and our economy,” he said.

“We ask that landowners continue to log jobs so we can understand the full picture of work remaining.”

As of September 20, the taskforce had 845 jobs logged, with 238 still outstanding for silt collection, and a further 233 jobs requiring waste and wood debris collections.

The taskforce has completed about 50% of jobs logged to date but are aware further jobs will be logged as landowners continue to clean up their properties.

A six-zone system is being used up to collect the unprecedented silt dumped on orchards, farms, roads, and residential properties.

There are dedicated contractors in each zone working to collect the silt. Silt samples from silt deposit sites are being taken several times a week, and to date all the result have come back clean.

The taskforce is looking at a range of options for storing and using silt in the future, and working closely with other councils, industry, and landowners to develop solutions for the region.

As at September 2023, there are four silt deposit sites in Esk, Omarunui, Mōteo Pā and Dartmoor. And two woody debris deposit sites in Omarunui and on Dartmoor Road.

The Taskforce currently has two mixed waste processing sites in Pakowhai and Esk Valley to deal with the piles of silt mixed in with waste as at September 2023.

Health hazard

Meantime, some remaining silt is becoming airborne dust, and health officials are urging precautions.

Photo Florence Charvin

Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand is working with other agencies to assess the public health impacts of dust generated from airborne silt in Hawke’s Bay.

Medical Officer of Health Dr Bridget Wilson said until more is known from air quality monitoring in affected regions, it is important for people to take precautions during times when dust is a significant issue.

“This is particularly important for the elderly, very young and people with heart or lung conditions.”

People can take measures to reduce the amount of dust they breathe in, she said.

“When outside in dusty areas wear a well-fitting mask (N95/P2) and eye protection, avoid exercising outside, and wash your hands and clothes after being in contact with large quantities of silt. When conditions are very dusty due to high winds stay indoors if possible and close windows.

“If you are cleaning up dust inside homes or cars, it is important to do so by wiping down surfaces or vacuuming rather than sweeping which can resuspend dust.”

Wilson said people worried about their symptoms should contact their doctor or Healthline on 0800 611 116.

Te Whatu Ora continues to work with NIWA and Environmental Science and Research (ESR) to better understand any potential health impacts related to reduced air quality. 

“The silt testing programme as part of the Hawke’s Bay Silt Recovery Taskforce (a joint partnership between Hastings District Council and Hawke’s Bay Regional Council) has reassuringly indicated that the likelihood of significant contamination of the silt by heavy metals, herbicides, and pesticides is likely to be very low,” Wilson said.

“However, the dust itself can still be very irritating to the eyes and upper airways, and for those with underlying heart or lung conditions, like asthma, can worsen their symptoms.”

Te Whatu Ora is continuing to conduct routine surveillance for any increase in respiratory admissions and has not seen a significant increase in respiratory presentations to date.

Regional Council Policy and Regulation Group Manager Katrina Brunton encouraged the community to be cautious of operating heavy machinery on windy days.

“If you see heavy machinery being used which is generating significant dust, please report to our pollution hotline on 0800 108 838.”

An interagency group is working together to measure and minimise risk from the increased dust circulating in the air.

The group is aware of the level of concern among communities following the dry windy weather over the weekend which generated dust from the silt deposited during Cyclone Gabrielle.

Representatives from Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand, the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, the Silt Recovery Taskforce, National Institute of Water and Atmosphere (NIWA), WorkSafe and other local councils are co-ordinating their approach to monitor and address the dust when possible.

Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ on Air


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