New Zealand could run low on potatoes and other fresh produce if rail overbridges between Ohakune and Rangataua are not repaired, Ruapehu Mayor Don Cameron is warning.
Ruapehu District Council recently said heavy vehicles could no longer use the Mangateitei Rd and Ruapehu Rd overbridges because both timber bridges had failing components and could collapse under heavy vehicles.
One of the bridges connects no-exit Mangateitei Rd to SH49 and there are vegetable growing, forestry and stock farming businesses that need to cross it to get products to market.
Chicanes and monitoring cameras were recently installed on the roads between Ohakune and Rangataua to monitor vehicles.
One of the affected businesses is Kim Young & Sons, which owns most of the land on one side of the road.
It has forestry and farms sheep and beef as well as potatoes and carrots, Scott Young said.
He estimated it might provide 15 per cent of the North Island market.
On the same road another grower markets cabbage, cauliflower, parsnips, broccoli and beetroot.
When Kim Young & Sons did logging a year ago it spent $100,000 to build its own private road and railway crossing, because even empty logging trucks were too heavy for the Mangateitei overbridge.
But Young's neighbours have no private road to get produce to market.
The Ruapehu Rd overbridge can be avoided by taking a longer alternative route, but that will cost producers more.
"It still definitely does need to be resolved as well," Young said.
Ruapehu District Council has budgeted money to cover 25 per cent of the cost to repair the overbridges, but funding criteria mean it has not been able to unlock the 75 per cent subsidy it needs from Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency.
Any decision on a subsidy will not be made until June, Waka Kotahi director of regional relationships Emma Speight said.
She said Waka Kotahi had "significant funding constraints".
At the same time it is tasked with reducing carbon emissions, improving safety, maintaining levels of service and delivering on a policy statement from Government.
The council's application would have to compete with others.
More than 90 per cent of the funding it has for the next three years has already been allocated, Speight said.
The council's debt level is high and borrowing all the money needed to fix the two ageing overbridges would grow the council's debt to what Cameron said would be "an uncomfortable $100 million".
The Chronicle contacted him for further comment.
Grower Scott Young has some sympathy with the council over its debt level, but not so much for the Government bodies.
"That bridge is 100 years old. Council, Government or the railroad or NZTA should have had something planned and forecasted," he said.
"There should be no reason why they can't see that as an important thing, because we are feeding the country."
Making the matter more urgent, Young said, there are 11 households in Mangateitei Rd. If there was a fire, Fire and Emergency NZ vehicles would be too heavy to cross the overbridge and get to it.
Building railway crossings would be cheaper than repairing the overbridges, Young said, and could be a solution.
Simply Carrots is another market garden business in Mangateitei Rd. It grows a wide range of vegetables and will either risk taking truckloads across the bridge, or send three truckloads a week across instead of two, Jean Taylor said.
"We have got to get our product out there. If we can't get our product out we are going to go broke."
The major need for Simply Carrots will be in January, when it has heavy truckloads of cabbages and cauliflowers.
"We have paid rates on this road for many years. They should have looked at this years ago, instead of putting it off," Taylor said.
Hammond Contracting will need the Mangateitei Rd overbridge to get cattle out sometime in the next few weeks. It has a bit of time to search for a solution, Rita Hammond said.
There are several market gardeners on the road that have a more immediate problem, she said, and the council had been very helpful.
On April 21 Young and other producers in Mangateitei Rd made an urgent appeal about the bridge to Ruapehu District Council.