Great clouds of dust still kick up from the road which caused so much grief for Whangarei MP Dr Shane Reti last time Northland went to the polls.

It's a big issue in this small stretch of New Zealand - just 10 houses along a small rural road that had the misfortune to become a main trucking route for logs out of Northland.

For a brief moment during the 2015 byelection, the dust thrown up by those trucks became a big issue for everyone.

This is how it went.

Advertisement

The unexpected resignation of a National MP saw a cavalcade of ministers and promises head north, offering bridges and other shiny gifts to a part of the country which had felt ignored for so long.

READ MORE: Where are Northland's bridges?

In the midst of it all, Reti heard of a road blockage planned by frustrated residents about half-an-hour outside his electorate.

They were angry and feeling ignored. By a stroke of a pen about 10 years earlier, Wright Rd and McCardle Rd were designated logging routes diverting a seemingly-endless convoy of trucks along metal roads.

Dust covered everything as the trucks thundered along a road built for rural services and not heavy industry. The forests they carried the logs from weren't even close by.

A campaign to resolve a myriad of issues had sporadic success - it was widened, dust suppressant applied and a hopelessly unsuitable bridge was replaced.

But still mother-of-seven and farmer Alex Wright, 53, would watch clouds of dust swept up and across the neighbourhood by as many as 120 logging trucks a day.

Into this constant frustration blundered Reti, 20 days out from voting. He said he was trying to help and that his call wasn't linked to the byelection but now was not the time to be annoying people.

He rang Wright: "It just happens that the spotlight's on us at the moment, that's just the consequence of where we are."

He said: "Hold your breath for the next two-and-a-half weeks."

Wright recalls how her daughter showed her how to find the record function on her mobile phone and how she held it close to the home phone which she put on loudspeaker.

She passed the recording to media, angry at what she believed to be an attempt to pressure the group of residents into silence.

Fingers were pointed, then-Prime Minister Sir John Key was quizzed, Reti apologised and the trucks kept rolling on. Newshub political editor Patrick Gower came and - apparently - exclaimed: "You don't realise what you've done."

"He was really daggy," she says.

Alex Wright of Pipiwai, who taped National MP Dr Shane Reti asking her to
Alex Wright of Pipiwai, who taped National MP Dr Shane Reti asking her to "hold you breath" during the 2015 Northland byelection. Photo / David Fisher

For Wright, it was a high-profile skirmish amid years of campaigning. Along the way, she's taken to attending council meetings, firing off press releases and pestering elected and appointed officials.

"One thing I've learned since it began is you've got to follow process. It made me aware of who to lobby to get our roads put in the [annual] plan.

"I just kept my finger on the pulse, just kept the pressure on."

It started in 2004. In 2016, the roads outside the 10 houses got a stretch of seal to keep the dust down. The whole lot should be sealed by 2020.

It's a long haul - longer than the trucks from up north take to the port outside Whangarei.

"I believe in putting things right if they are wrong," says Wright.

Wright Rd - dusty and dangerous with up to 120 logging trucks a day. Photo / David Fisher
Wright Rd - dusty and dangerous with up to 120 logging trucks a day. Photo / David Fisher

Most recently, pressure from the group led the council to commission research which found the sealed and unsealed sections of the road exceeded government mandated levels for air quality.

"Now we've got scientific data we're living in an unsafe environment."

As for Wright, she has since had her own tilt at politics with a run for Whangarei District Council. Among her policies is a better share of roading budgets for rural ratepayers.
She was unsuccessful but says she'll be back.

An NZTA spokesman said: "We are continuing to participate in a national working group to further investigate the impacts of road dust and to develop a national framework and guidance to manage dust from unsealed roads."

Whangarei District Council roading manager Jeff Devine is hopeful work will begin completing the seal along the entire route in 2019.

In 2016, council and NZTA paid for sealing 150m along house frontages for the 10 houses on both roads to minimise the effects of dust.

Further funding was put forward by both council and NZTA to extend the seal outside the houses. The work is planned for this summer. The cost of both jobs is around $2m.

Funding is also being sought for the remaining 4km of road - another $2m - which is hoped to be finished by 2020.

With other costs - bridge, dust suppressant - the total cost is around $5m for the logging trucks shortcut.

Wright says of Reti: "He's gone very quiet now."

Reti did not respond to a request to be interviewed.