Jordan Bond is a reporter for NZME's Local Network.

Wall of wood: Rail option to offset damage to roads

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MPs at Tokomaru East Road forest - from left, Stacy Cranston, of Forest Owner Marketing Services, Chester Borrows, Ian McKelvie, Jonathan Young, Marcus Musson, of FOMS, and Brett Hudson.
MPs at Tokomaru East Road forest - from left, Stacy Cranston, of Forest Owner Marketing Services, Chester Borrows, Ian McKelvie, Jonathan Young, Marcus Musson, of FOMS, and Brett Hudson.

Harvesting Whanganui's wall of wood in the next 20 years will provide hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in income - but the question is: Who will foot the bill for the damage to the roads?

Whanganui's available forestry cut will triple in the next 20 years, according to Forest Owner Marketing Services, requiring heavier trucks travelling more frequently on the region's roads.

Whanganui District Council said it was likely to cost an extra $20 million in the next few decades to maintain these roads to current standards.

FOMS managing director Marcus Musson said forest owners had paid rates for decades on unharvested land, and would struggle to handle an additional road levy.

"The council has been collecting rates for the past 30 years, and there has been no upgrade to rural infrastructure - it's just gone into the slush fund.

"It's a pretty topical issue here - who's going to pay for the increased infrastructure and roading."

In its submission to council's 2016-17 annual plan earlier this year, Whanganui Federated Farmers said the council should look at a special rate to cover damage caused by heavy trucks.

Council infrastructure manager Mark Hughes said many roads that linked the forests to the state highway network would be under pressure when harvesting stepped up. These include Brunswick Road, Blueskin Road, Tokomaru East Road, Tokomaru West Road, Rangitatau East Road and Rangitatau West Road on the western side of the district, and Kauangaroa Road and Warrengate Road on the eastern side.

Mr Musson said costly infrastructure work was inevitable, as the increase in volume would require not only more but heavier trucks travelling on roads not built for that purpose.

However, he said an increased use of rail would lessen the impact - a method of transport he was eagerly pushing for.

The railhead at Whanganui could take 16 wagon-loads a day - 21 truck loads - as well as being cheaper.

Whanganui MP Chester Borrows last week met with FOMS and checked out work in the Brunswick area, accompanied by lower North Island MPs from the government's Regional Development Caucus Committee.

Mr Borrows said increased rail use was more cost efficient and safer than road transport.

"Milk tankers and logging trucks stuff our roads. What Mr Musson is doing here is saving the taxpayer millions of dollars in road maintenance."

Mr Musson expected greater mechanisation and efficiencies to pick up around two-thirds of the industry growth in the next 20 years.

Mr Borrows said despite some low-skilled job losses to mechanisation, the industry's volume growth would provide jobs for those willing to work hard.

"There will always be jobs in the rural sector for people who want to work," he said.

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