By Stan Stewart.
It’s a fact. A bridge will be built and access on Highway 25a from Thames to Hikuai will be restored. Hooray! But problems related to floods will remain. At this point in time there is nothing planned to alleviate this problem.
Two of Whitianga’s flood problems are regularly seen on the roads out of town - north and south. Another more serious flood hazard is at the Whenuakite turn off to Hot Water Beach. This can take a long time to clear. But the major hot spot for our prolonged isolation is many kilometres further south at Hikuai, a distance of 52 kms from Whitianga.
Every year, Highway 25 is flooded at Hikuai and this brings Highway 25 to a close, sometimes for days at a time. Residents of Whitianga and settlements north want this fixed. They need all-weather access to their towns and district. Coming up to elections seems like a good time to beat this drum. But at this time there is no evidence that anyone is listening.
A new road which skirts the flood plain is possible. It would have to be carved into the hillsides ending with a bridge over the tidal basin rejoining the current highway to Tairua, south of the town. However, at this point, no political party has listed a new flood-proof road as part of their highway plan. Waka Kotahi has not mentioned this in any report or maintenance schedule available to the; unlicensed. Yet if one totalled the expense of repairing the damage on this flood plain over many years (not to ascertain the hold ups to businesses and residents and loss of productivity in that same period) a new bypass could have been paid for while the old road kept functioning. There is not even a paper-road plan in existence for this proposed new road and bridge. This idea has been touted before and discussed at Council level. Undoubtably, it would be extremely costly to build. Locals and motorists would grumble about it. However, floods, particularly at Hikuai will continue to come and go and that’s that.
Who says? No lesser person than Bill Prescott of Prescott’s Garages Limited. Bill and his family before him have been living and doing business on the corner of Hikuai Settlement Road and Highway 25 since 1996 and for over 75 years in the Whitianga district. He knows more about the flooding on Highway 25, the road to Tairua and Whitianga, than just about anyone else.
In 1992-93, the highway adjacent to the garage was raised and a bridge was built over what looked like the major waterway. However, when the rain comes, the water flows quickly and becomes too much for the flow capacity of the bridge. The water spills out either side of the bridge and across the highway. The rains cause other streams to emerge, and these can be flowing in the opposite direction to the water coming from the bridge, creating intersections of swirling waters. This means that even the direction of the flood waters can’t be predicted. But the effect is always the same. State Highway 25 and the Hikuai Settlement Road are submerged.”
Bill says the problem is often made worse because the drains and culverts approaching the bridge and under the bridge are often choked with debris. Regular maintenance was supposed to keep these tunnels and drains clear, but this seldom happens. With culverts and bridges blocked with debris, the flooding of the highway is inevitable. However, this is just one of the problems. If heavy rains coincide with a high tide in the estuary, flooding on the highway is inevitable and extensive.
Bill has stern words for motorists who think they can drive through the flood waters - those near his garage or any flood waters. In contrast to the old high set T Model Fords, modern cars - petrol, diesel and electric - are not able to travel through flood waters. For one thing, he points out that the depth of the flood waters on roads near his garage can vary markedly. Sixteen centimeters (six inches) can become 40 centimeters in a very short distance.
Bill tells that many vehicles have been destroyed because of water, even a small amount of water, being sucked into the air filter. This water is ingested into the motor and this destroys the motor. This applies to all makes of vehicles including the most expensive. Motors destroyed in this way cannot be repaired, They are just scrap iron (A personal note - from my time in Queensland. Because of frequent flooding, the vehicles equipped for outback roads have the engine air breather fixed level with the rooftop of the cab. This is to make it possible for the vehicles to drive through flooded creeks).
There are hundreds of people who are grateful to Bill and his staff at Prescott’s Garage. Anxious people stranded in their cars and on the roof of their cars, have been rescued by Bill and his staff. At times, large numbers of stranded motorists have found refuge in Prescott’s Garage. They are grateful for more than the physical transport on tractor and high vehicles. It’s the good humour and generosity of their rescuers. They have experienced ‘Kiwi country hospitality’ at its best.
Against this background, significant work to eliminate, or at least limit, the effects of future flooding must commence as soon as possible. The Coromandel cannot afford for all focus to be on one bridge. A significant problem, 15 minutes away, on the same highway awaits or precedes all travellers, every time there is significant rain. This is not about easing the access problems of a few batch owners. This is of national importance. Government, both national and regional, can no longer evade this matter and hope that everyone is distracted by waiting for the ‘new bridge.’ Pre-election promises must lead to appropriate actions or local and national government officials will face loud and persistent protests. Coromandel’s roading problems deserve focus now and a clear proposal with a clear timeline for the years ahead placed in front of voters.
Postscript: The certainty of continuing road disruption due to floods is not good news for Whitianga and district. However, this area has several back door routes which are less threatened and usually stay open. There are two routes to Coromandel town (Highway 25 and the 309 unsealed road). There is a flood point on Highway 25 at the one-way bridge at the bottom of the hill when exiting from Whitianga. However, this usually clears quickly. Even when Highway 25a is viable again (promised early next year), the floods will cover the highway at Hikuai. However, these backdoor routes will probably be open. Our isolation will not be complete. This is a ray of good news (sunshine) that is not to be forgotten.
Local resource people for this article: Bill Prescott, Tom Riddle, Bob Nichols.
Caption: This has happened many times and it will again.