OPOTIKI District Council engineering and services group manager Ari Erickson has come up with a cheaper way to clean the Waioeka bridge. Instead of paying for a full-scale scaffolding job, a custom-built cradle will be used when cleaning the bridge. Photo Sven Carlsson OS0119-01

OPOTIKI can look forward to no longer being embarrassed by a dirty bridge as the entrance point to the town.

The New Zealand Transport Agency has announced the Waioeka Bridge in Opotiki will be professionally cleaned later this year.

Speaking from Australia, Opotiki Mayor John Forbes said the about-turn by the NZTA, which previously said it would not clean the Waioeka Bridge, was great news.

“I am really pleased that all the lobbying has paid off,” he said.

Acting Bay of Plenty transport systems manager Graeme Withington said the funding approval was great news for the Opotiki community, which had campaigned strongly for the cleaning to happen.

“We listened to the community and have secured funding to start the bridge clean in the next few months,” he said.

“We are thrilled that this much-loved gateway to Opotiki and asset to the community is getting a new lease of life.”

Mr Withington said although funding had been approved, the transport agency would still need to finalise the technical aspects of the project to ensure resource consents were met.

“The bridge spans the Waioeka River, and we need to ensure the waterway and surrounding areas aren’t contaminated as a result of the work carried out on the bridge,” he said.

“This makes the cleaning process more complicated as we need to provide a methodology that is acceptable to the Bay of Plenty Regional Council.”

The transport agency is investigating these options to be presented to the regional council for approval.

“Once the process is agreed we will be able to advise the community of what to expect and when the works will begin,” Mr Withington said.

“It’s expected that work would start later this year.”

Opotiki District Council chief executive Aileen Lawrie said she and the councillors were pleased to hear the NZTA’s announcement the bridge would be cleaned in the coming months after almost three years of raising the matter on behalf of the community.

“It’s been a long time coming, but it’s a win for the Opotiki community,” she said.

Ms Lawrie said getting matters through central government processes was time-consuming, as the nature of spending public money required proposals, budgets and contracts, all of which added up to long lead-in times.

“We’ve been told for years that because the issues aren’t structural, that cleaning wasn’t a priority and I can appreciate their point of view on that,” she said.

“But as many in the community have pointed out, it’s hard to imagine a bridge in Auckland allowed to reach that state without uproar.”

The bridge is the gateway to Opotiki, and the first thing people see when they come to the town.

“Everyone here is thrilled to see this get across the line so we really appreciate NZTA listening to the community and finding funding for this work,” Ms Lawrie said.

Previous reports suggested that cleaning costs were close to $500,000 reflecting the nature of the traffic management challenges, scaffolding for health and safety purposes and consent issues surrounding the run-off of hydrocarbons and paint into the river below.

“It’s important to acknowledge Ari Erickson’s role in putting forward a solution that both protected the environment and reduced the cost,” Ms Lawrie said.

She said the council’s engineering and services group manager had outlined a concept for a custom-built cradle that would move along the side of the structure as each section was cleaned.

“NZTA has since taken the idea on board and is developing it further alongside the regional council,” she said.

“It looks like the sort of innovative thinking they may be able to roll out elsewhere. We may have found a solution for a local problem that the rest of New Zealand may benefit from,” Ms Lawrie said.

sven.carlsson@thebeacon.co.nz