June earliest date for gorge re opening

By APNZ, Sonita Chandar

Motorists to and from Hawke's Bay will not be able to use the Manawatu Gorge until mid year at the earliest - about a year after it was blocked by a major slip.

NZTA announced yesterday the gorge would not open for at least another five months.

Palmerston North state highways manager David McGonigal said while progress had been solid so far, the sheer amount of work meant it would take some time for things to be cleaned up.

"It's a case of man versus Mother Nature and while the battle is finally swinging our way, it will take time and tenacity to win it," he said.

Tararua District Mayor Roly Ellis was philosophical, saying the repair work had to be done without any shortcuts.

"We've got to do it properly and be very conscious of health and safety."

Although local businesses had suffered a downturn in the past few months, Mr Ellis said the closure of the gorge was not the only factor in their suffering.

"There's also less discretionary spending going about, so you've got to focus on more than just one thing."

Digbys of Woodville bed and breakfast co-owner Peter Bonser agreed.

"The closure affects different businesses in different ways," he said.

"We're noticing that people aren't buying bigger items, but people are still buying coffees etc, so it's not so bad for us.

"Our business has suffered and we're down on last year, but it's to do with the economy as well as the gorge."

Apart from three days when travel was possible, the gorge has been closed since last August 18, with several slips burying it in tonnes of rock and debris. It was previously thought the important gorge may be open this month.

Mr McGonigal said NZTA believed the slip was the largest ever to occur in New Zealand.

"We certainly can't find anything comparable to this slip.

"It is a very complex slip and the challenge comes from the size of it and the environment we are having to work in."

Mr McGonigal said crews were working seven days a week on the benching process and the work they had carried out so far was an indication of how much more they had to do.

"We realise it will be at least the end of June before we can reopen the Manawatu Gorge."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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