EVALUATORS will be assessing Awatarariki residents’ homes within the month.

Whakatane District Council Mayor Tony Bonne said on Wednesday residents on the Awatarariki fanhead had been asked to confirm within a month whether they would be taking part in the council’s managed retreat from the fanhead.

Independent evaluators will then assess the properties at current market value without taking into consideration the debris flow risk and the council will then make residents an offer.

Residents will have the opportunity to hire their own evaluator at council’s cost for “peace of mind”.

“We won’t be using a stick,” said Mr Bonne.

“This is a generous package and we expect the majority will take it up. Even the angry residents at the meeting last night said they wanted this package to be available for those people who want to go.”

Despite the council expecting most people to take up the offer, Mr Bonne said some would go through the Environment Court “in the end”.

Following the original debris flow in 2005, the council spent seven years searching for a way to mitigate the risk to residents living in the area should another debris flow occur.

These plans were abandoned in 2012 and the council instead focused on buying residents out of their homes and rezoning the land from residential to coastal protection.

“This has been 14 years of stress for residents,” said Mr Bonne.

“Some have not recovered from that stress and they are now (deceased).”

Moving people from their homes by changing the land zoning has not been done before in New Zealand but council chief executive Stephanie O’Sullivan said she didn’t believe it set a precedent.

Although Mr Bonne and Ms O’Sullivan were not able to provide reporters with an exact figure the mitigation and legal investigations had cost the council, Ms O’Sullivan said it was likely to be in the millions even before residents were bought out.

Residents of the Awatarariki fanhead had previously asked why they were being moved from their homes when people living in places such as West End, Ohope, where deaths had occurred from landslides were not.

Mr Bonne said the difference was mitigation work could be completed in Ohope and many residents spent upwards of $300,000 on mitigation before they even built their homes in the area.

“I had personally considered letting people stay there and accept the risk,” said Mr Bonne.

“But, what about the people who have grandchildren or other people visit, by allowing the residents to stay the council would be responsible for them too.”

Ms O’Sullivan said similar to the red-zone in Christchurch, council would be exhausting “all possible avenues” including letting the plan change from residential land to coastal protection “take its course” before considering what they might do if people refuse to leave their homes.

“We are trying to get people out of harm’s way,” said Ms O’Sullivan.

“We don’t have a date set for when people need to be out.”

The managed retreat process is estimated to cost $15 million, a third of which will come from the council, a third from the Bay of Plenty Regional Council and a third from the Government.

Residents had earlier indicated that they would not be leaving their homes without a fight.
Awatarariki Residents Incorporated, which represents 25 members, created a Givealitte page last Saturday aimed at raising funds for a legal fight.

The page has a goal of $80,000 to fund lawyers to represent the group in council hearings and the Environment Court.

At the time of going to print, $220 had been raised towards this goal.

Feeling shafted and deceived

TAKING THE OFFER: Clem Elliott Drive resident Tawai Thatcher is keen to take the council’s offer. Photo Mark Rieder D8732-01

TAWAI Thatcher and her partner, Ian Lockett, are keen to take the council’s offer and leave the Eastern Bay and its bad memories behind.

The couple bought their sunny, two-storey home on Matata’s Clem Elliott Drive in 2015 – two years after the Whakatane District Council abandoned its mitigation plans and began finalising its managed retreat package.

The couple said they were made aware of the debris flow risk at the time of purchase but not that they might be forced from their new home.

Ms Thatcher said if they had known, they would never have bought the property.

“We had a meeting with the council at the time of purchasing where they made us aware of the debris flow risk. At no point did they mention that there was a possibility in the future that people would be moved from their homes,” said Ms Thatcher.

“We feel duped, deceived and shafted. There is absolutely no way we would have bought here had we known.

“We were naïve, and I am shocked the council still allowed us and two other people to buy homes here knowing what they knew at the time.”

At the time of purchase, the couple were under the impression that it was their choice to accept the risk and believe that it still should be.

“It is not the council’s responsibility to make that choice for us,” said Ms Thatcher.

The couple is incredulous of what appears to be double standards across the district. Their own home was “strong” and withstood the debris flow, yet Murphy’s Motor Camp was inundated and will not be closing.

“If loss of life was really that much of a concern, they should be closing the motor camp too as well as the railway and the highway – it’s bullshit,” said Ms Thatcher.

“This is not the council’s place to decide, Rotorua and Auckland are built on volcanos, Gisborne is on the Hikurangi Fault and surely there is more risk to life at a place like West End.

“When you look at that their loss of life argument goes out the window.”

If the council offers the couple a fair price for their home, they intend to take it and move from the Eastern Bay.

Ms Thatcher said the stress and uncertainty of the last few years has left a sour taste.

The couple had previously been offered what they originally paid for the home, but Ms Thatcher said that was not fair as property prices had climbed since then and their home should now be worth more.

“The council has shattered us, we are extremely stressed, and we just can’t imagine staying here anymore,” she said.

“This has been an incredibly hard time and we want to leave. We would like to buy somewhere like Papamoa but we have been devastated by the council and they have really put us in a corner.

If the couple do not receive what they believe is a fair offer for their home, they will join other fanhead residents in fighting the council for their homes in the Environment Court.

“No matter what happens, if we are bought out or not, we will support those who choose to go through the court process,” said Ms Thatcher.

charlotte.jones@thebeacon.co.nz