Poroti truck crash highlights hapu's safety worries

By Mike Dinsdale

TRAFFIC DANGER: A logging truck overturned on Mangakahia Rd early yesterday, spilling part of its load, as well as diesel and oil, into the Poroti Springs Reserve. PHOTO/MIKE BARRINGTON
TRAFFIC DANGER: A logging truck overturned on Mangakahia Rd early yesterday, spilling part of its load, as well as diesel and oil, into the Poroti Springs Reserve. PHOTO/MIKE BARRINGTON

A logging truck crashing into a reserve and the resulting pollution has upset Whangarei hapu, who want the proposed Mangakahia Rd state highway to bypass Poroti.

A logging truck driver was taken to hospital after his truck left the road about 3am yesterday, spilling part of the load, and a trail of oil and diesel on to the Poroti Springs reserve. The fuel spill has upset local hapu, who just last week outlined their concerns about pollution of the reserve and springs from increased traffic on the road, which NZ Transport Agency is looking to make into State Highway 15.

The water treatment plant at Poroti was closed for maintenance so none of the pollutants would have made it into the treatment system. Whangarei District Council senior asset engineer Greg Monteith said the springs are a precious taonga for everyone including the tangata whenua who are kaitiaki for them and the wider Whangarei community.

"Keeping the source pure is important to us all. No water from the springs has entered the water supply since before the accident because the plant was shut off yesterday for some routine maintenance," Mr Monteith said.

The crash happened just opposite the Maungarongo Marae at Poroti and close to the nearby school, tavern and sports complex, as well as the site of a water bottling plant that has been granted consent but not yet built.

Last week, a NZTA team of six met at the Poroti marae with about 30 people from some of the eight marae along the proposed 95km SH15 that part of Mangakahia Rd will become.

At the meeting Hona Edwards, of Poroti, told NZTA hapu feared increased road safety issues outside Poroti Primary School and pollution of the Poroti Springs reserve from the increased traffic.

Mr Edwards, a beneficiary of the Poroti marae, said it was sad that a week later an accident had caused more pollution of the reserve and put the water quality of the springs at risk.

"It's very lucky that we only have a man in hospital rather than in the morgue. But we need to have things change here," Mr Edwards said.

He said the three hapu from the area, Te Uriroroi, Te Parawhau and Te Mahurehure, wanted the proposed highway to bypass Poroti, mainly for safety reasons and to prevent further pollution of their taonga.

"But we recognise that that can't happen overnight, so in the short term we'd like to see the speed limit through the area [covering about 5km] reduced. Preferably to 50km/h, but no higher than 70km/h, at all times."

Mr Edwards said Poroti was a busy hub, with children from the school, marae regulars and visitors, and customers and staff of Poroti Tavern and the Mangakahia Sports Complex all at greater risk from increased traffic if the road was not diverted past the township.

"This was just so lucky today. Being early there was not a lot of traffic on the road, there were no children going to or from school as it's the holidays and the driver somehow managed to miss the two concrete poles ... we might not be so lucky next time."

Mr Edwards said once the bottling plant was up and running there would be even more traffic using the stretch of road and the hapu had serious concerns over the situation.

NZTA said about 4500 vehicles now used the southern end of the proposed SH15 route daily, and while there isn't a breakdown for logging trucks, heavy vehicles make up around 20 per cent of the traffic.

WDC have been alerted to a small quantity of diesel spilt about 20m from the springs and are seeking advice about any action it may need to take.

Mangakahia Rd carries up to 195 logging trucks per day, or one truck every three minutes during peak log season, a figure that is set to increase.

- Northern Advocate

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