Last Friday was one of Woodville's darkest days, with news of the indefinite closure of State Highway 3 through the Manawatu Gorge, says Tararua District Mayor Tracey Collis.

"Our town will change but, through adversity and heartache, a greater Woodville will emerge," she said.

"The circumstances and events we see as setbacks are the very things which launch us into growth.

''Woodville will become stronger and grow with a new, safe and secure road. As a region we will be working very hard with the Woodville community to be resilient and ready for that growth. Working together we will find a way forward."

Advertisement
Ross I'Anson, NZTA regional transport system manager, with the moving cliff face behind him. Photo / Christine McKay
Ross I'Anson, NZTA regional transport system manager, with the moving cliff face behind him. Photo / Christine McKay

Immediately after inspecting the gorge with Transport Minister Simon Bridges, New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) staff and MPs Alastair Scott and Ian McKelvie, last Friday Mrs Collis visited businesses in Woodville to break the grim news of the instability of the cliff faces in the gorge and the possibility the road may not reopen.

"People were in shock," she said. "At that stage they hadn't had a chance to absorb what the news meant for them.

"But this isn't just our problem - the indefinite closure of the Manawatu Gorge affects approximately 500,000 people."

While there was no timeframe for the reopening of the vital link between Manawatu, Tararua and Hawke's Bay because the cliff faces in the gorge were on the move, work had already begun on planning for a new route, said the Tararua District Council's chief executive, Blair King.

"One of the options isn't favoured by our council as it will bypass Woodville but there are other alternatives, including a tunnel and a route which goes across from Ferry Reserve," he said.

Mr King said the rate of movement in the gorge was accelerating.

"If it [the cliff face] goes over it will be catastrophic," he said.

NZ Transport Agency and Transport Minister Simon Bridges said the SH3 link between Hawke's Bay and Wairarapa to Manawatu is not currently safe. Photo/Duncan Brown
NZ Transport Agency and Transport Minister Simon Bridges said the SH3 link between Hawke's Bay and Wairarapa to Manawatu is not currently safe. Photo/Duncan Brown

"No one would have a chance of getting out of the way. Three litres of water a second is coming out of the drilled areas."

Advertisement

Robin Winter, chair of Woodville Districts Vision, told the Dannevirke News that as the shock wore off it was time to think positively for the town and the region.

"We need to start thinking about some different ways of doing things for our community," she said.

"Even if they give us another road, it could be years. I'm glad we've got a stable and sound community and already businesses are interested in working together to get through this."

One of the first moves would be to make sure NZTA installed some functional signs, directing traffic through Woodville, she said.

The initial slip on April 24 which first closed the state highway through the Manawatu Gorge.
The initial slip on April 24 which first closed the state highway through the Manawatu Gorge.

"All change provides some kind of opportunity, and people need to be thinking about those opportunities, rather than disaster."

NZTA regional transport system manager Ross I'Anson said geotechnical engineers had confirmed that a large area above the Kerry's Wall rock face was highly unstable, with an imminent risk of further significant slips or rock falls.

"Geotechnical assessments have confirmed that the entire hillside is moving, and the rate of that movement is accelerating.

''That's an indication that a slip as large or larger than the 2011 slip which closed the road for 14 months could come down at any time," he said.

Laser monitoring equipment would be installed on the railway line side of the gorge as the area was now a "no go" for workers, Mr I'Anson said.

Liz Rossiter, NZTA acting regional director, said pulling workers out of the gorge had nothing to do with investment.

"It's about safety, it's what we've had to do," she said.

While the NZTA had taken over management of Saddle Rd and was prepared to invest over and above the $8.5 million already spent on its upgrade, Mr King said his council was also talking with it about the Pahiatua Track.

"When Fonterra tankers start operating again we expect the surface of that alternate route to go down, too," he said.

Grant Smith, mayor, Palmerston North. Photo/Duncan Brown
Grant Smith, mayor, Palmerston North. Photo/Duncan Brown

Meanwhile, with the public concerned about the state of the council's roads down off Saddle Rd, the Tararua Alliance is to begin working on Pinfold and Oxford Rds, from the corner of Woodlands Rd, to repair the surface and edge breaks.

Mr King said that was expected to take four weeks and motorists could should be prepared for delays and to be directed down Woodlands Rd into Woodville.

District councillor Shirley Hull said it was important to support our communities.

"Whatever happens it's about how we support our ratepayers regarding our back roads because we are all in this together."

Mrs Collis said it was important to be positive and support Woodville. Every Monday from 1pm to 3pm she would be based in an office at the new Woodville Library and iSite on Vogel St to meet with residents.

"We have to look at our options because there's a lot of stress on businesses and commuters," she said.