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Council report warned of damage from forest debris

Heavy rain washed piles of logs and debris on to Tolaga Bay roads and farmland during two storms in the past fortnight. - Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Gisborne District Council was warned in a report more than seven months ago that forestry debris was likely to cause huge damage in another big storm.

The council commissioned the report after Cyclone Cook last year swept logs and slash down rivers. It predicted the damage that's unfolded over the past week was highly likely.

The report found slash piles were routinely stored on flood plains and that future downpours would cause risk for buildings and infrastructure.

Gisborne District mayor Meng Foon said over the past few months work had ramped up to improve forestry monitoring.

"We've actually got ads in the paper for more people to actually do that, we've bought some drones that are going to go into the areas that people can't have access to safely.

"Drones will fly over, take pictures and do better monitoring and better reporting so that we can enforce the resource consent conditions."

Thirty-six farms in Tolaga Bay have been affected by flooding during the past week.

They now want the logging companies to put up $100 million to clean up the mess and a halt to all logging activity.

Some farmers have complained that forestry management on the East Coast is like the "wild-west" but Mr Foon said the council had been cracking down on those not following the rules.

"We have pulled up the forestry industry a couple of times and issued them with abatement issues on non-compliance, so definitely our staff are onto that.

"Now we have more technology and more funding allocated in the ten-year plan to do more monitoring."

Former district councillor and Ruatoria resident Manu Caddie is not convinced by the council's enforcement.

He said the council kowtowed to forestry companies as they brought huge economic value to the region.

"It's understandable that we want to look after them as a region but on the other hand I think sometimes that's spilled over into allowing them to get away with too much.

"I've heard reports in the last year or two of compliance staff recommending prosecutions that they were then told wouldn't proceed by management."

He said it was time to re-evaluate the future of forestry on the East Coast.

"There's a whole lot more harvesting that's coming on-stream over the next few years and it's just going to be a disaster for the region if those forests are allowed to be clear-felled, particularly on the really steep erosion-prone land."


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