The case for sealing a section of the SH10 end of Church Rd, east of Kareponia, was widely questioned when the Far North District Council announced that it met the criteria. And those questions have not gone away.
Diggers' Valley Rd resident Charmaine Terei said her long-standing grievance with the council stemmed from living on a dusty metal road that was being used by logging trucks, and did not appear to be finishing any time soon.
She and a number of other residents had made countless requests to the council for dust suppression, and had largely been ignored by the FNDC, leading them to question the criteria as set out in the council's roading matrix.
She suspected that traffic counts on Church Rd had been manipulated. The discrepancy had been pointed out by a ratepayer at a council meeting, a recount being undertaken at the Kaitaia end of Church Rd, not the SH10 end, which had been proposed for sealing.
"How is it that a road that doesn't meet the roading matrix criteria is flagged for sealing, when the road I live on, which has a chronic dust problem, and puts residents who live on that road in the high risk health category, gets ignored for over a year?" she asked.
"In council's defence, they treated three sites on our road before Christmas, but failed to capture quite a few homes that do fall within the matrix and are significantly impacted by dust. This raises the question, how do they determine which areas to treat? Do they put a blindfold on when they throw the darts at the unsealed road maps?"
According to the matrix, that section of Church Rd carries a 24-hour average of 1985 vehicles, of which eight per cent (159) are heavy commercial vehicles. The road is not used by logging trucks.
It scored zero in terms of 'sensitive receivers,' in that it had no schools, marae, churches, health centres, ecological or horticultural areas. There are no cowsheds.
It scored 1 in terms of economic growth and tourism, the matrix noting that there was no tourist traffic, its solitary point coming from its potential as a 'resilience route' (a detour in the event of a road closure elsewhere).
The Far North District Council's general manager infrastructure and asset management, Andy Finch, said he had sympathy for those who were seriously impacted by road dust over summer.
"To provide some perspective, there are more than 1840 households living adjacent to gravel roads in the Far North," he said.
"The council has a limited budget, so must focus on mitigating this problem for those very worst affected households. This summer we have applied dust suppression to 164 sections of unsealed road in the Far North, totalling 32km. The council also devotes $1 million of ratepayer funds each year to extend seal specifically to combat road dust. This is on top of our road sealing programme, co-funded by Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency."
It was disappointing that some would accuse the council of manipulating traffic counts, he added. The statement that a recount had been undertaken at the Kaitaia end of Church Rd, not the SH10 end, was not correct. The inaccuracy had been clarified at the council's September 24 meeting; the traffic count in question was conducted at the State Highway 10 end of Church Rd.
The data were further tested by Waka Kotahi NZTA, validated and confirmed.
"The section at the SH10 end of Church Rd met NZTA's criteria, and it will subsidise road seal work. A project to extend the seal on this part of Church Rd is now in development," Finch said.
"Having said that, we agree that road traffic counts need to be improved so that we have greater and more accurate road-use details for our dust suppression and seal extension programmes. This summer we have significantly increased the number of road counters deployed across the district, and I trust readers have noticed more pneumatic loop counters strung across the roads recently.
"Finally, road use and maintenance demands are constantly changing, as the closure of the Mangamuka Gorge has clearly demonstrated. The council and its contractors work hard to maintain and improve all 2500km of the district's roads within a budget that does not add extra burdens to ratepayers.