AThe Whakatāne District Council has adopted a series ofrecommendations which aim to provide a solution to the long and harrowingprocess of addressing the debris flow risk to residents and property owners onthe Awatarariki fanhead in Matatā.

Mayor Tony Bonne says that agreement has been reached with the Government and the Bay of Plenty Regional Council on a process to explore funding for a property acquisition package and hopes to have funding decisions confirmed in the second quarter of 2019.

“To provide the time required for funding to be finalised and allow the owners of the 34 Awatarariki properties involved to then consider offers to purchase their properties at market value, we have also agreed to delay the joint hearing of the proposed plan changes to the District Plan and Regional Natural Resources Plan until late-2019,” he says. “Owner participation would be voluntary, but we believe the managed retreat package will offer a fair solution which will allow property owners to move on with their lives.”

The proposal would allow properties to be purchased at market value, at the time an offer is made, without any discount for the known debris flow risk. Offers would also include contributions to legal and relocation costs and offset mortgage break fees, where relevant.

“Council elected members recognise the depth of feeling Awatarariki owners have for their properties and we acknowledge that some people will be reluctant to sell,” Mayor Bonne says. “However, we hope that they will approach this process with open minds and realise that it will provide fair recompense and a way forward which will protect people from the threat of future debris flows.”

In a report received by the Council on 12 December, Strategic Projects Manager Jeff Farrell said that officials from the Department of Internal Affairs had completed a review of the indicative business case for a managed retreat from the Awatarariki debris flow hazard. “This confirmed that the risk analyses and peer reviews were robust; that no engineering solution or other risk reduction option exists; and that no practical land swap option was available,” he said.

“A working group made up of representatives from the Department of Internal Affairs, Bay of Plenty Regional Council and Whakatāne District Council has also agreed that a jointly-funded acquisition strategy was the most appropriate way to deliver a managed retreat proposal.”

Mr Farrell said cost estimates included in the indicative business case had been updated to reflect market movement and inflation, but new, independent market values would be established as part of the acquisition process. A dispute process would also be provided, should any owners disagree with the independent valuations.

Awatarariki fanhead. Photo taken from the Awatarariki Matata e Tu FB page