A date for the installation of a new bridge at Upokongaro is imminent, Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall says.
The cycle and footbridge between Upokongaro and Papaiti was to have been put in place in April last year.
It has been delayed by the need to consult with local hapū Ngā Paerangi under the Te Awa Tupua legislation passed in early 2017, McDouall said.
Whanganui District Council got resource consent for the bridge before that legislation was passed. When it needed a revised consent to raise the bridge an extra 800mm, it had to apply to Horizons Regional Council again and that triggered the requirement for consultation.
"Once we had to apply for a revised consent then we started the process that we probably should have done in 2017," McDouall said.
From January to April last year there was lots of talk as part of the consultation.
The hapū brought up the existence of an urupa (burial ground) nearby, and the need to keep Upokongaro Stream healthy for whitebait spawning.
"That was totally valid and we managed to reassure them and make sure further construction acknowledged that."
Engagement with Ngā Paerangi has been "extremely positive", but there was no agreement by April and the contractor moved equipment needed to install the bridge away to work elsewhere.
There was a final meeting with Ngā Paerangi late last year - then the Christmas break slowed the process down.
Bridge placement delayed by consultation omission
Agreement is close, and McDouall doesn't anticipate any "show stoppers" before final sign-off of a draft consent that has gone to all the parties.
Council has begun talking to Emmetts Civil Construction about when it can have staff and equipment ready to "fly" the bridge, McDouall said.
The consultation has created good model for the future, and relationships "that might have been a little bit fraught a year ago because of this have been repaired".
When the Chronicle has asked questions about the bridge it has received little detail. McDouall said that was because there was very little to say - but he knew people were getting agitated.
"I totally understand people's frustration. This will be a fantastic amenity when it's in. It will be great for cycling and make Upokongaro a boom hamlet."
The Chronicle asked Horizons Regional Council about the status of the resource consent variation, whether it had been approved and, if not, the reason why.
Horizons strategy and regulation group manager Dr Nic Peet replied that "Horizons understand that people have concerns".
"We have made good progress and need to ensure that a robust and appropriate decision is made that will be enduring.
"Getting that right now avoids further delay."
Peet did not answer the questions about the resource consent.
NZTA, which is providing 50 per cent of the funding for the bridge, referred any questions to the Whanganui District Council.
The 130m bridge connects the Mountains to Sea cycleway from Upokongaro to the west side of the Whanganui River and on to Whanganui town. It is also part of the Te Araroa trail.
The budget for the bridge and the cycle path linking it to Somme Pde was $2.3 million, with Whanganui District Council paying $670,000, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment paying $600,000 and NZTA paying $1.25m.
The council voted in August 2017 to build a bridge over the river to accommodate the proposed new route of the Mountains to Sea cycleway, moving it from the eastern to the western side of the Whanganui River between Upokongaro and Whanganui. NZTA approved the move in November 2017 and construction was due to start in early 2018.
The bridge was expected to be in place by April 2019 but in May last year council chief executive Kym Fell said its placement had been delayed because the council did not consult everyone it needed to.
"I now understand and acknowledge that we did not identify everyone we needed to speak with at the outset of this project and this is the work we are currently concluding," Fell said.
It was the first time the council had undertaken engagement under the new Te Awa Tupua legislation, and it was learning and developing the processes.
"We are in the final stages of concluding positive discussions with key local stakeholders," Fell said in May 2019.