After years of campaigning and 1700 petition signatures, Ōpōtiki residents have won the battle to have the "derelict" Waioeka River Bridge tidied up.

The New Zealand Transport Agency has announced it will be cleaned before the end of the year.

It is the only western entrance to the Eastern Bay of Plenty town and marks the intersection between State Highway 2 from Gisborne, State Highway 2 from Tauranga, and State Highway 35 from the top of the East Cape.

In a press release last week, the Ōpōtiki District Council said it was pleased to hear the news, "after almost three years of raising the matter on behalf of the community".

Advertisement

Chief executive Aileen Lawrie said, "We have been told for years that because the issues aren't structural, that cleaning wasn't a priority and I can appreciate their point of view on that – the utmost care needs to be taken with public funds".

Waioeka River Bridge in Ōpōtiki. Photo / Supplied
Waioeka River Bridge in Ōpōtiki. Photo / Supplied

"But as many in the community have pointed out, it is hard to imagine a bridge in Auckland [would be] allowed to reach that state without uproar. It is the gateway to our town and the first thing people see. So everyone here is thrilled to see this get across the line."

Previous reports suggested cleaning costs were close to $500,000, reflecting the nature of the traffic management challenges, scaffolding for health and safety purposes and consent issues surrounding the run-off of hydro-carbons and paint into the river below.

Petition leader Tania Te Whenua wrote on the petition's page that she was "so pleased" with the result.

Petition leader Tania Te Whenua. Photo / File
Petition leader Tania Te Whenua. Photo / File

She thanked "everyone who spoke up about it [the bridge] to demonstrate to central government ... how unacceptable this neglect is to us".

Meanwhile, in a Facebook post, Waiariki MP Tāmati Coffey said the community and the council had been "trying time and time again" to have something done about the bridge.

In its current state it hindered people's first impressions of the town, he said.

🙌 I am proud that after almost 3 years of the community asking and the Council trying time and time again, NZTA have...

Posted by Tamati Coffey - Labour MP for Waiariki on Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Coffey said he lobbied Transport Minister Phil Twyford and met with the district council over the issue.

Advertisement

"It is clear that this action builds on our massive investment into the Ōpōtiki Harbour development and related industries, and the launch of He Poutama Rangatahi initiatives to guide local rangatahi from learning to earning, as proof that this Government is walking the talk in delivering for our grassroots communities."

Waiariki MP Tāmati Coffey. Photo / File
Waiariki MP Tāmati Coffey. Photo / File

In March, Te Whenua told the Rotorua Daily Post residents used to be proud of their bridge when it was kept "spick and span".

"It sends our township and our visitors a strong message of neglect from central government and its agencies ... Yet we are a hub of horticultural, agricultural and forestry activity.

"I'm concerned the NZTA plan to spend $655 million on road maintenance within the Bay of Plenty over the next three years yet most of that is earmarked for Tauranga and Rotorua," Te Whenua said.

At the time, the NZTA's Bay of Plenty system manager, Rob Campbell, said the agency was prioritising projects and assessing what could be realistically funded under the National Land Transport Programme.

"Our priority is to ensure a safe and resilient network across the country. Structural and strengthening work was completed on the bridge in 2018 to upgrade the capacity to carry heavy vehicles and we are satisfied it meets all safety requirements, he said.