Horizons Regional Council receives $26.9m for climate resilience infrastructure projects

Horizons Regional Council welcomes the announcement of a $26.9 million climate resilience package for the Manawatū-Whanganui Region by Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones yesterday.

Horizons Regional Council chair Rachel Keedwell says the region’s package is one of six announced for the regional council sector yesterday, equating to more than $100 million.
“Other regions have already received similar funding towards river management shovel ready initiatives from central government’s $3 billion allocated to infrastructure projects from the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund,” says Cr Keedwell.
“In our region, the $26.9 million will go towards five projects that primarily aim to build community resilience to protect against and mitigate the effects of climate change.
“We’ve conservatively estimated the number of jobs created as a result of this funding as 36 across Horizons and external consultants and contractors. We started escalating some preparatory activity with these projects a few months ago in anticipation of a favourable announcement as the prospects looked good.
“With a formal announcement now made council will review how to prioritise work programmes and fund the shortfall of these projects later this month. In particular, the rate impact on our community will need to be given decent consideration and what timeframe is appropriate and affordable. 
“The projects include flood mitigation for Foxton, further investment in flood protection for Palmerston North, the establishment of a quarry at Kumeroa to provide rock rip-rap, further investment in flood protection for the Lower Manawatū area and a range of initiatives intended to make the lower reach of the Rangitīkei River more resilient to climate change.”
Horizons river management group manager Ramon Strong says Foxton has been affected by flooding on a relatively regular basis, primarily a result of heavy rain over the town, often coinciding with high groundwater levels and full drains.
“The challenges the town faces will worsen with time, given its growth trajectory and the effects of climate change,” says Mr Strong.
“Horizons and Horowhenua District Council have been responding jointly to this issue, with funding set aside in the 2018-28 Long-term Plans of both councils.
“The project plan includes diverting surface water from the catchment east of Foxton, around the town and into Horizons’ Whirokino drainage scheme. Much of the work addresses systemic issues that have persisted for many years, including sections of stopbanking that failed in the devastating floods of 2015.
“Foxton flood mitigation was identified as the highest priority project in our funding bid to central government. We had intended on updating the community regarding the work for this project earlier this year, however due to COVID-19 there’s been a delay and we’ve more recently been waiting on the outcome of the shovel ready applications.
“Yesterday’s announcement means we now have 75 per cent of the funding required for this $6 million project, which we will be able to accelerate over the next year. We will be updating Foxton residents on this project shortly.
“In Palmerston North strengthening of some sections of the Mangaone is necessary to enable the city to grow toward Longburn, part of Palmerston North City Council’s Kakatangiata Plan Change. We also commissioned some detailed external assessments of the flood protection network that protects Palmerston North and identified a range of initiatives that will help make the network more resilient.
“The network is robust and has withstood a number of large floods in the past however we’re also mindful that if a failure were to occur the damage cost would run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
“This project has also received 75 per cent of the estimated $7 million cost. We will continue to work closely with Palmerston North City Council to progress this project.”
Mr Strong also says there are medium to long term challenges around the supply of rock rip-rap for river protection work in the lower North Island and accordingly one of the Horizons projects is the establishment of a new quarry.
“Central government’s 75 per cent contribution towards this $2.7 million project assists with the development of a hardrock quarry at Kumeroa, securing rock supply for flood protection projects in the future. Horizons has over 600,000 tonnes of rock rip-rap along the Manawatu River downstream of Ashhurst alone and the unit cost of rock rip-rap has a big influence on future operating costs.
“That complements investment Horizons has been making on behalf of ratepayers since 2006 in improving the standard of flood protection for the Lower Manawatū area. This has included raising/ rebuilding stopbanks, raising the Kopane Bridge and constructing the Burkes Pump Station.
“Debt incurred with that investment is limiting Horizons ability to further strengthen the network; mindful of the impacts of COVID-19 we’ve reduced albeit slightly the operating budget in the current financial year so the
cash injection of $11.25 million from central government is very timely – building resilience and addressing silt build up and the consequential loss of flood carrying capacity, especially in the Ōroua River.
“The $15 million project is anticipated to take three years and includes the potential to create 20 jobs. We’ll be looking to improve biodiversity values concurrently with making the network more resilient.
“Finally, we’re also looking to invest further in the management of the lower reach of the Rangitīkei River, a fifth work package that we put forward that has received 75 per cent of the estimated $5.2 million needed.
“That funding will go toward making that reach of the river more resilient to climate change, enhancing the river’s biodiversity values and improving recreational access.” 
Cr Keedwell says the support from central government is crucial for helping to build climate change resilience in regional communities.
“Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and as a council we have been thinking about what this means for existing infrastructure. This funding gives us a head start on building that resilience.
“Looking ahead, in addition to getting this work underway, we will be undertaking a wider climate change risk assessment for the region that will involve conversations with our communities to help identify what else they consider to be at risk. More information about this process will be coming out towards the end of the month.”