Far North District Council, when are you going to do something about the dust and damage caused by logging trucks on Diggers' Valley Rd?
We have been asking for help for more than 12 months. A number of residents have rung and emailed repeatedly - yet nothing is done. We now hear that a second site up the valley is being logged, which means twice as many trucks.
The dust is unbearable. It causes breathing problems, means all our spouting is constantly filled with dust so our tank water becomes undrinkable, we have to do our washing in town (and pay for that). Not to mention the constant need to clean the dust that coats everything inside.
The road surface needs dust minimisation treatment urgently.
The situation is made even worse for those of us living close to the road by bank deterioration caused by heavy vehicle traffic and graders (the only attention the council pays to the road) that lower the road and gouge out the bank.
Why are we required to pay hefty rates for almost no services, and a council that allows industry and its own contractors to threaten our wellbeing?
Far North District Council general manager infrastructure and asset management Andy Finch responds:
I have sympathy for Ms Sohler and other residents of Diggers' Valley Rd. Traffic on the road, and particularly heavy traffic, including logging trucks, has increased considerably since slips closed State Highway 1 at Mangamuka Gorge. This has increased dust nuisance and damage to parts of the road. However, it is not correct or reasonable to say the council has failed to maintain the road or is not responding to increased traffic.
Before Christmas, the council applied dust suppressant to three sections of Diggers' Valley Rd where households are most seriously affected by road dust. These were among 164 sections of unsealed road in the Far North, totalling 32km, that received dust suppression between November and December 2020. These locations were selected using a priority matrix based on standardised criteria. The four criteria used are:
The target building is within 25m from the road, more than 130 vehicles pass per day, more than 30 trucks pass per day, and vehicle speed assessed at more than 65km/h.
The Far North District Council has agreed to support individuals who fall outside the criteria above by covering the cost of applying the dust suppression products when it undertakes its summertime work. The cost of the product is borne by the individual.
The closure of SH1 has dramatically increased traffic volumes on Diggers' Valley Rd since those dust suppression decisions were made and a contractor engaged.
Increased traffic has also put considerable extra stress on parts of the road, as Ms Sohler points out. Much of this normally quiet road is not designed to take high volumes of traffic or heavy traffic. This has caused subsidence of the road and damaged the road surface. The considerable cost of repairing this damage was not anticipated or budgeted for.
However, to minimise the impact on the ratepayer, the council has submitted a $290,000 claim to Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency to cover the currently identified cost of damage from forestry traffic re-routed on to Diggers' Valley Rd due to the Mangamuka Gorge closure. That claim is now being considered, and we hope to have a decision soon.
In the meantime, the council will continue to monitor the condition of Diggers' Valley Rd and ensure it is suitable for most road users. Additional traffic counters will also be placed on Diggers' Valley Rd to capture the change in traffic movements and help inform the dust suppression criteria listed above.
Road damage and dust caused by logging traffic is an issue for all rural communities in New Zealand. Many logging companies voluntarily enter into agreements with local authorities to contribute towards maintenance costs. However, they are not obliged to do this, or to keep local authorities informed of their activities.
In the Far North, the forestry industry normally contributes towards dust suppressants on long-term forestry routes. One company, NZ Forestry, has contributed towards suppressants on Diggers' Valley Rd, towards the Broadwood end, where the company is operating. Summit has now begun using the road at the Kaitaia end. However, this work will last only for two months. Nevertheless, the council will discuss maintenance options with that company.