I screamed on phone, says Matata resident

By Juliet Rowan

Whakatane District Council leaders came under fire during a visit to Matata yesterday, when one resident said she screamed on the phone when told her property was a virtual write-off by Victim Support.

Victim Support workers handed 31 property-owners in the stricken town letters from the council on Tuesday, telling them that their properties were "unlikely to be suitable for residential use in the future".

The move sparked outrage among the affected group, who said the council should have sent its own representatives to break the news.

Whakatane mayor Colin Holmes and council recovery manager Diane Turner were accompanying a visiting politician through an area of the town strewn with debris and ruined houses yesterday when they were approached by Kay Fergusson.

Mrs Fergusson told Mrs Turner she had screamed and yelled when a female Victim Support worker phoned her to say she was delivering a letter about her property.

Mrs Fergusson said she thought, "Why is she giving me the letter?"

Mrs Fergusson said she had been expecting the news, but thought it was inappropriate it came through Victim Support.

But Mr Holmes stood by the council's action: "It's bad news for people.

It doesn't matter who delivers it."

He said the council asked for Victim Support's help because the organisation had been closely involved with the Matata community since the May 18 disaster.

"It was not to remove us from the front line. It was a considered move."

The council will present the findings of a preliminary Hazards and Risk Report and outline options for the worst-hit areas at a public meeting tonight. It has given little hint of the options, but Mr Holmes said the chance of rebuilding on properties belonging to those given the letters was "very, very slim".

He put the likelihood in the fractions of a per cent, saying rebuilding would be "totally uneconomic".

Relocating residents to other areas in the town was also unlikely because the council was not sure how much land was available.

In Whakatane and inland at Edgecumbe, efforts continue to prevent a repeat of the damage suffered in last year's July floods.

The regional council, Environment Bay of Plenty, is 60 per cent of the way through a $12 million programme to restore and strengthen stopbanks on the rivers that flooded.

Bruce Crabbe, the council's manager for rivers and drainage, said work had been prioritised according to areas where risk to people was greatest.

Council works engineer Tony Dunlop has overseen repairs to stopbanks, including one along the Rangitaiki River that suffered a 100m-wide breach.

He said huge quantities of soil were needed to fill areas on either side of the stopbank.

Rocks have been used to shore up the river side of the stopbank, as is the case in several sites along the river.

Native toetoe and carex grasses have been planted to provide stabilising cover. The stopbank programme is 90 per cent funded by ratepayers. Some farmers whose land borders rivers around Edgecumbe pay $20,000 a year in rates. But Mr Dunlop said most knew they had little choice.

"If you were to add up the assets of what these schemes are protecting, it would be billions," he said.

The plains were swampland until the late 1800s, so have always been prone to flooding.

Mr Crabbe said there was no guarantee of preventing another disaster. "All we can do is provide as secure a flood protection system as we can."

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