VEHICLE damage to grass areas on stopbanks compromises the bank’s integrity. Photos James SandbrookOB4794-03

RIVER access is not a safety issue for Opotiki – but stopbank damage is.

Last month, major surface damage was done by a vehicle to an area of the Waioeka River stopbank near the Opotiki skatepark.

The damage – which has still not been able to be safely repaired – was to the grass surface, which in turn allows the elements to weaken stopbank structure and overall integrity.

With the stopbanks being the sole barrier between the township and the Waioeka and Otara rivers, Opotiki District council engineering and services group manager Ari Erickson is reminding residents to stick to existing access points for their vehicles.

“There are two places in Opotiki township with existing vehicular access to the river – next to the Waioeka bridge and at the wharf,” he said.

“There are also several other locations where parking is available on the inside of the stopbank with the river not far away on the other side.”

Aside from these access points, Mr Erickson said vehicle access to the rivers was discouraged because of the damage it could cause.

“Aside from these places, we try and restrict access to the stop banks with bollards or gate access as damage is caused when people use them for four-wheel driving or other activities,” he said.

“Those are costs and risks that the community should not have to carry.”

Bay of Plenty Regional Council rivers and drainage asset manager Kristy Brown said any additional access points had to receive bylaw authority from the regional council, but Mr Erickson said this was not on the cards.

“Council doesn’t have any plans at this stage of providing additional access points,” he said.

“In fact, if damage continues, additional bollards and cordons will be considered for the few locations where unintended access is still possible, as there are issues not only with the damage caused to the stopbanks but also fly tipping.”

Ms Brown said it was important residents adhered to the existing access points to preserve stopbank integrity.

“Our primary concern is to ensure that the integrity of the stopbank and its job as flood defence isn’t compromised with that use,” she said.

However, Ms Brown said this damage could take many forms, and was not always the fault of individuals.

“Damage to our stopbanks can take all sorts of forms – vehicles, heavy animals, construction on or nearby stopbanks and trees and shrubs,” she said.

“Trees and shrubs can cause damage with their roots and also topple during rain and high winds, creating more issues at the exact time you need the stopbanks most.

“They can also kill the grass cover from the top of the bank causing it to ‘knit’ together and make it more difficult for our staff to carry out regular visual inspections and assessments,” Ms Brown said.

Ms Brown encourages residents who spot any of these issues to contact the regional council by emailing or calling 0800 884 880.