It's almost a year on from the floods which devastated Edgecumbe, and local farmers are only just beginning to feel they are on solid ground.

Tom Richardson has worked 112ha of family-owned land almost all his life.

"The bit that I find the most frustrating is that it doesn't appear that anything has really been learned from it.

"There is no indication from the authorities that they are going to remedy these problems," Tom said.


"All these things that have happened were quite foreseeable as they'd happened before.

"Because of the silence now, I worry we will go through this again next time due to inaction. That's the bit that hurts the most."

Tom and his wife Peggy have run their land as an organic dairy farm for two decades.

Since the flood, they have had to take out another mortgage to keep the farm afloat.

"Farmers do live in overdraft," Peggy said, "and as a salary earner, I didn't really want to do that. We worked hard, and in March 2017 we had come into the black.

"We were over the moon, we couldn't believe it! And then in April, just a month later, well, it went to the other end."

Tom and Peggy Richardson. Photo / Jaden McLeod
Tom and Peggy Richardson. Photo / Jaden McLeod

The day after the stopbank breached on College Rd, police arrived at Tom and Peggy's Soldiers Rd property and told them they had to evacuate or face arrest.

An upbeat ex-pat American, Peggy said she had never felt more insecure in her own home.

"If it was raining, that was hard. I know other people had the same reaction. You'd hear rain and you could not sleep. You would worry, would rain be coming up over the bridge to our house again?


"Depression is a horrible thing, I had not experienced that. Not wanting to go out and see anybody; I like seeing people.

"I wanted to stay in the house, I could not go to my quilting group for weeks and weeks.

"To re-establish a normality, I think that is the hardest, because nothing is ever going to be normal again."

Tom said the financial strain of the flood amounts to over $200,000 and much of that was not covered by their insurance.

Tom and Peggy had to take out a second mortgage on their organic dairy farm. Photo / Jaden McLeod
Tom and Peggy had to take out a second mortgage on their organic dairy farm. Photo / Jaden McLeod

Regional authorities have failed to communicate with residents, he said, leaving them unsure about their future.

"They haven't said anything. Nothing. It is a lack of trust," Tom said.

"I have a stopbank on my farm that is too low from the earthquake. They have not fixed it, said they will remedy it, but I am not allowed to fix it. Not at all. That is against the law."

"If it was an act of God, I could excuse it, just a bit. I'm willing to excuse God on that. But this feels like it came out of things that just shouldn't have happened," Peggy added.

"If you look at that wall, it should not have been left like that. They should have sorted Reid's Canal and used the dam. So then you are left with anger and resentment, and that isn't nice to live with. But those are hard things to live with, and to forgive."

Bay of Plenty Regional Council chairman Doug Leeder says the council put in place a representative community group who have worked with designers and engineers to design the new stopbank rebuild on College Rd.

"Those members have said they are happy with the consultation they have had with people in Edgecumbe regarding the build. Construction is under way and I understand they will follow that closely. We are doing the best that we can, but we can always do better," says Leeder.

Garry Bryson owns Golden Grain, a local Edgecumbe business operating on farmland just outside the town centre. Running for 40 years, it grows and manufactures its grain as stock feed for animals.

Like Tom and Peggy, Garry says he has experienced major financial strain post-flood.

Garry Bryson, owner of Golden Grain. Photo / Jaden McLeod
Garry Bryson, owner of Golden Grain. Photo / Jaden McLeod

"We've lost at least half a million dollars, and it is still ongoing. We are still having trouble with wiring, all our switchgear is oxidising," Garry said.

"Where the water came through, it went through the sewage ponds and the sewage ponds came on to the farm and contaminated our crop. It was the best crop we'd ever had in our life here. It's taken its toll and we are still having trouble with the acid from the ponds that is getting into the wiring."

Garry is the third generation of his family to grow maize in Edgecumbe. He says the regional council have a lot to answer for.

"They guaranteed me in 2004 that the spillway hadn't worked and that they would fix it. It was still wrong, it still didn't work. And now they've gone from one extreme to another, now they have taken it out all together.

"They haven't given us enough confidence to say it won't happen again. Their spillway at Hydro Rd is an utter shambles, even now. It's 12 months coming up, we could get another rain, and I still feel they aren't organised.

"It will probably go over the other side of Edgecumbe, will they get flooded now the spillway has been taken out? They got flooded in 2004, and it has gone worse to what it was then."

Chairman Leeder maintains it is the highest priority of the Regional Council to work with the community, to put in place measures to stop a similar event occurring.

"However, you can never guarantee that you can withstand the forces of nature. I think it would be a brave person who would lay claim to this never happening again. We are taking steps to minimise it, by implementing the spill system into the Reid's Central Canal, so that if the river does get to a certain trigger point, the excess waters are sent down through a rural land system."

Golden Grain has lost at least half a million dollars in the wake of the floods. Photo / Jaden McLeod
Golden Grain has lost at least half a million dollars in the wake of the floods. Photo / Jaden McLeod

Garry was planning on handing over the family business to his two sons and building a house nearby. He said he was now unsure whether building anywhere near his home was the right option.

Golden Grain would harvest in the coming months. After a complete loss of crops in 2017, Garry says they must rely on a better return this year to feel confident moving forward.

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