Nearly three years since ex-cyclone Debbie dumped a 14m-wide slip over the beloved Mauao base track, work has begun on repairing it. Kiri Gillespie talks to Tauranga's new mayor about what this means, what's involved and why he won't reveal costs.
Work has started under urgency to repair Mauao's base track but Tauranga's new mayor is not yet revealing how much the project is going to cost.
Mayor Tenby Powell confirmed Tauranga City Council, Heritage New Zealand, and Mauao Trust had agreed on a plan to repair the existing base track.
Work has already started with arborists pruning back two large pōhutukawa trees hanging over the area.
"It would be imprudent of me to say it has cost X figure and it was a bit more or a bit less," Powell said.
He expected it would come in under $2 million. He said the original budget signed off by the council was $2.5m, elevated to $4.65m during the last Annual Plan process.
Because that funding had been approved, the project did not require any further votes or decision making by elected members.
"We've consulted with iwi and Heritage New Zealand. In terms of going back to council for a decision regarding money, yes [we would have to] if we thought it was going to cost any more than that."
Final costs of the repair work will only be released once the project is completed, he said.
"We are doing it under urgency. We are getting to three years since the slip and the original budget was approved."
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In 2017, ex-cyclone Debbie caused a 14m slip. A portion of the track was closed. The full loop was reopened after the council built a set of temporary stairs over the slipped portion. They are not accessible to people using prams, strollers and wheelchairs.
The plan for a permanent fix first approved by the council involved building a new 350m section of track and boardwalks along the beach. It was designed to be highly resilient to future slips.
This plan was approved by the last council and received resource consent but it was put on hold in June after elected members baulked at new cost estimates that ballooned to between $5.2m and $6.8m.
By that point, about $640,000 had already been spent on the project.
Powell admitted the new plan was less resilient to slips but said he was confident in it.
He said there had been no slips in the area in the past three years.
The repairs were expected to offer a 10- to 15-year life expectancy.
The project will involve minor realignment and excavation of the area, stabilisation of the area and better drainage. The track is expected to have a handrail and be slightly narrower than other parts of the base track but still wide enough for prams.
Arborists have already been onsite and pruned two large pōhutukawa trees above the track to remove excess weight, reducing the risk of slips.
"We are pushing really hard for it to be done before Christmas," Powell said.
Mauao Trust member Buddy Mikaere was enthused by the repairs, and progress.
"We decided we would go for this option because it was fairly simple, straight-forward and practical. And it could be done pretty quickly with minimum impact to the two pōhutukawa trees, which are important, and minimum impact to the archaeology features."
The trust represents the three iwi of Tauranga Moana, who collectively own Mauao.
Mikaere said the trust had received complaints from people unhappy about why any repair work was taking so long.
Mount Maunganui resident Trevor Clist was one of a few community members who presented to the council in August, asking them to hurry up and get the track fixed.
"The gist of it was about just getting on and doing it. It doesn't have to be $6m," Clist said yesterday.
"We kicked off something and got it going, no doubt the new mayor will take credit but that's fine. It sounds like a sensible plan."
Heritage New Zealand area manager Ben Pick previously said the area of the slip was "a pretty exceptional site" and it was important to retain its archaeology.
Repairs to reform the original base track
• Clearing the slip away from the existing track
• Minor realignment of the existing track
• Minor excavation of the slip
• Stabilising of the soil in the area, using soil nails and Geotech cloth
• Better drainage of the area above and on the base track
• Installing a handrail