Anger at logging crisis talks

By Alexandra Newlove -
A packed meeting with irate Otaika Valley residents. Photo / John Stone
A packed meeting with irate Otaika Valley residents. Photo / John Stone

Residents on a popular logging truck route say their lives are being put at risk by the hundreds of heavy trucks passing their homes each day, and are forming a working party to address the issue.

More than 150 Otaika Valley and Mangakahia road residents went home disappointed from an emergency meeting on Tuesday night, called after five logging truck crashes in Northland in the last month. Two of the trucks had rolled on Otaika Valley Rd.

Meeting attendees angrily shouted "why not?" when told by the New Zealand Transport Agency that speed limits would for now remain the same along the stretch comprising the Te Pua, Mangakahia, Otaika Valley and Loop Rds.

The NZTA's Jacqui Hori-Hoult addressing residents.
The NZTA's Jacqui Hori-Hoult addressing residents.

The 96km stretch was controlled by Whangarei District Council, but would be redesignated as State Highway 15 from July 1, meaning NZTA would administer it.

"Our team is working really hard to make sure we can look after that road. The next stage is working with the community and looking at the safety with the community," NZTA's Jacqui Hori-Hoult told the meeting.

But residents wanted immediate action.

One Otaika Valley Rd resident told of how he wouldn't let his children play in the front of his house, for fear a truck would plough through his property. Another woman described the "constant" noise and disruption caused by the trucks which sped back and forth from 2am until dusk.

The route provides access to about 50,000ha of production forest - about 25 per cent of Northland's total - and North Port.

Others pointed the finger at police for not enforcing the existing speed limit strictly enough; Central Government for not supporting a regional rail network; and inexperienced truckers who overestimated their ability.

The logging truck drivers had been barred from the meeting by organisers Grow Northland Rail, but some attended anyway.

John Bain, chair of the Regional Transport Committee, said he intended to approach logging industry leaders to encourage them to ensure all their drivers were up to scratch.

"Although [at the meeting] we talked in circles, some were rude and some were het up, we do all have a common goal to ensure safety and make sure it's [the road] in good condition," Mr Bain said.

Whangarei District Councillor Phil Halse said a committee comprising ward councillors, school principals, truckies, police and road users had been improving safety along the road for three years, including moving a bus stop, giving out hi-vis vests to school children and erecting safety signs.

"For the first two-and-a-half years of that committee we didn't have a rollover," Mr Halse said. "So what's happened in the last few months that's led to this massive amount? Let's look at the cause, instead of firing arrows at everyone."

Residents were planning another meeting. Details will be published when they are finalised.

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