Progress is slower than expected but there should be at least a pile of rocks waiting to mend Whanganui's river moles before the financial year is over, Horizons Regional Council river manager Ramon Strong says.
He had hoped to start work on the $15 million repair job this summer. It will be a heavy civil engineering job, requiring "rocks the size of cars".
The main uncertainty is whether Government will give funding for it. Horizons and Whanganui District Council applied for $7.5 million from the Provincial Growth Fund - half the cost of improving Whanganui's port for coastal shipping.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made a "firm commitment" to providing $3 million for the port project during the 2017 election campaign.
Last year she said those commitments have been transferred to the Provincial Growth Fund. Strong is feeling hopeful about the application, but has heard nothing formally from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
The rest of the money needed will come from ratepayers of the two councils. The size of the Provincial Growth Fund grant will determine the initial scale of activities.
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The work also needs resource consents.
"We are not far away from resource consent for a stockpile [of rocks] close to the moles," Strong said.
Horizons has been talking about the work with Whanganui River post-settlement governance entity Ngā Tāngata Tiaki and also with Tupoho, Ngā Rauru and hapū for "a number of years".
The groups are not putting up any barriers to the proposed work and an "appropriate governance and partnership model" is intended for all the port work.
"Ngā Tāngata Tiaki's stated focus is the health and wellbeing of the river. That's a fairly integral part of Horizons' values as well," Strong said.
At the moment he is mainly focused on finding the 50,000 to 60,000 tonnes of rock needed for the work.
Preliminary digging found shellrock of suitable quality at Waitahinga Quarry, on Rangitatau East Rd 18km from State Highway 3. There is an estimated 1.5 million tonnes of shellrock in a 576m-high bush covered ridge there.
Re-opening the quarry, and the potential jobs it could provide, has been part of the Provincial Growth Fund application.
"We are keen to progress that with Whanganui District Council," Strong said.
But extending the quarry could also destroy access to the Waitahinga Trails, established by Wanganui Tramping Club with the district council's encouragement.
The council has said it wants the trails to continue, and would factor the cost of a new public carpark for people accessing them into a business plan for reopening the quarry.
Horizons' financial year ends on June 30, and Strong hopes to have some visible sign that the work will happen on the ground before then.