The Homer Tunnel, a transport lifeline into and out of Milford Sound, Fiordland, will receive a $25 million upgrade as part of a swathe of pre-election government investment into Southland that also includes $5.3 million in provincial growth fund money for two Southland food producers.
The announcements follow last week's announcement that the Tiwai Point smelter will close next year, with an attendant economic hit of almost $600 million, including the loss of 2,600 staff and contractors in the region.
Funding for the tunnel, paid for out of the government's covid-19 recovery package, will include tunnel upgrades to its fire and safety systems, installation of incident cameras, new emergency refuges, installation of a new ventilation system and rockfall protection.
Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones said the 'fire life' works are scheduled to begin immediately, along with some upgrades to the Eastern tunnel portal area.
Jones said the investment, which would create about 180 jobs, was an investment in the future of a "critical piece of infrastructure for the region, improving safety for tourists, creating jobs and providing much-needed economic stimulus,"
The 1.2 kilometre, two lane tunnel has served as the State Highway 94 Milford Rd link between Te Anau and Piopiotahi Milford Sound since its construction in 1953, and its walls remain unlined gravel.
Wearing his regional economic ministerial hat, Jones also earmarked $5.3 million in PGF loans to two food producers, including $2.8 million for Alliance Group's Lorneville plant and up to $2.5 million for Drysdale Hydroponics' vegetable growing business.
The loan will help Alliance convert the venison processing plant to include beef processing, providing an extension to the processing season by between 10 to 12 weeks, and will support up to 20 new jobs.
Even when the Tiwai Point workers are included, the meat cooperative is Southland's largest employer employing a combined 2,500 people through its Invercargill office and its two plants at Lorneville and Mataura.
The loan to Drysdale will help it expand and diversify its vegetable range, including tomatoes, capsicums, strawberries and micro-greens, such as lettuce or sprouts.
Jones said that Southland needs a "wider variety of food production other than beef and dairy, sheep and root-stock vegetables for commercial supply," and that the hydroponics business has proven it can commercially produce lettuce and other leafy greens in Southland.
"This will be a great asset to the region where demand for fresh, locally grown produce can often outstrip supply. Produce not produced in Southland needs to be airfreighted from the top of the North Island, at considerable extra economic and environmental cost to both growers and consumers."