By Rhea Dasent, Senior Policy Advisor
For many districts, Cyclone Gabrielle is one of those events that conjures up images of flooding and severe damage but they’ve moved on to other challenges. But for thousands of residents, farmers and businesses on the east coast, in Coromandel, Auckland, Northland and adjacent regions, cyclone impacts remain very real.
Recovery, for some, will take many more months, if not years. It’s timely to take a look at the advocacy efforts of Federated Farmers that have – and will – speed that hard task. Some of the actions described below are particular to Hawke’s Bay (my region), and are provided just by way of example. Similar actions or issues apply in other districts.
Severe Weather Emergency Recovery Legislation Bill
Feds submitted multiple times on the Severe Weather Emergency Recovery bill, looking for practical improvements that let cyclone victims get on with recovery.
We supported the lifting of resource consent requirements to do repair and recovery actions like replacing cyclone-damaged culverts, crossings and bridges, removing silt and cleaning up slips.
Burning Cyclone Debris
We successfully advocated for the lifting of prohibited status for burning debris plastics like bale wrap, bird netting, irrigation hose and tanalised timber that has become tangled in woody flood debris. This was an urgent problem for orchardists and growers in the worst-hit areas, needing to clean up debris quickly so replanting could occur in winter.
The Severe Weather Emergency Act at first kept prohibited status for burning plastics, but in June an Order in Council was finally done that lifts the prohibition and recognises that the bigger goal of speedy recovery is paramount.
In our submission, Feds raised concerns that the new permitted rule was requiring farmers and growers to test and remediate any level of soil contamination from the burnt matter. This type of standard was simply going to replace the regulatory problem of air pollution with that of soil contamination.
Expired Consents Amnesty
Federated Farmers supported an Order that allowed expired consents holders to continue their activity if the re-application window fell in the aftermath of the cyclone. Not only have the consent holders been unable to re-apply, but the Regional Council has likely been unable to process consent applications in a timely manner.
There are 32 water take consent holders in the Hawke’s Bay who have missed the deadline to re-apply for their expired consent because of the cyclone, and they must be allowed to continue especially if the water is used for things like stock drinking.
Extended Time for Councils to Prosecute
Feds was not happy with an extended time period for councils to prosecute non-compliance, because of the potential it could be used to prosecute farmer victims of the cyclone. This meant that councils had up to 24 months rather than the usual 12, to prosecute if their rules are broken, even by accident. The clock starts ticking from the time when they found out about non-compliance, not from the time the non-compliance happened.
We were worried that accidents like farm effluent ponds overflowing with the extreme amount of cyclone rain, ponds that had collapsed or effluent irrigation equipment destroyed, would only have an extended period of up to two years to look forward to being prosecuted for accidents which are outside the farmers’ control.
Stock Exclusion Deadline Extension
Federated Farmers appreciated the Government’s attempt to help farmers by extending the deadline to achieve stock exclusion from waterways until 2025, but we submitted that this still wasn’t enough time given the vast scale of post-cyclone fence damage and the barriers farmers face.
The extent of the re-fencing problem is evidenced by the fact several charities have had to step into the breach to assist farmers. If farmers are relying on charity to repair fences after this event, then regulatory deadlines need to be generous. The focus is repairing and restoring existing fences that were damaged. New riparian fencing is a pipe dream.
The Post Your Support charity drive has so far distributed 2,126 kilometres of donated fencing materials. Two tractors with post rammers where also generously donated to work full-time on volunteer assistance. The Farmy Army of civilian volunteers are out their providing their free labour to repair fences. A fencing charity drive by the Rapid Relief Team provided 75 kilometres of fencing consisting of 200,000 posts as well as other materials and required 12 truck and trailer units to deliver.
It’s not only the financial cost; farmers face other significant barriers to achieve stock exclusion by 2025. The conditions are too wet, and often too dangerous. Boggy ground, wash-outs, unconsolidated layers of silt, piles of woody debris, rivers and streams that have changed course, and still-moving slips, all make fencing impossible. Some farmers can’t even get materials and vehicles out to the site, let alone tackle the daunting workload.
Crushingly, those who had already fenced off waterways and done riparian planting which was completely destroyed by the cyclone, will be required to do all that work a second time by that deadline. Federated Farmers made sure our submission described how unjust that is.
Feds was successful convincing the Hastings District Council to introduce a new rate remission especially for cyclone damaged properties. We hope that Central Hawke’s Bay, Wairoa and Gisborne local authorities follow suit.
Red- and yellow-stickered houses were granted remission which was definitely needed, but Federated Farmers suggested to councils that remissions for ag/hort properties were also necessary. Councils need to recognise that if your means of earning an income from your property had taken a hit (farm infrastructure like yards and woolshed where inoperable; or crops, trees or paddocks were damaged), then rates relief is necessary to help farmers get back on their feet.
If the land on your property has been severely damaged or eroded, including crop or pasture damage, and the land has become unusable or uneconomic, you can apply to Hastings District Council for up to 100% remission, for up to two years. You can find the application form on the Hastings District Council website, or give me a ring.
Hastings Property Valuations
Feds submitted on the Hastings Severe Weather Recovery (Rating Valuations Act – Hastings District Council) Order 2023, making sure that property valuations to strike rates in Hastings were fair to landowners who are victims of the cyclone.
We submitted that it is very difficult to ascertain the rates impact that the August 2022 general revaluation will have on ratepayers within Hastings District compared to the current 2020 values, because no example properties or averages were provided. It is Federated Farmers’ fear that the 2022 values, and subsequently increased rates demands, will exacerbate the impact of the cyclone on victims.
We also submitted that ratepayers should not be deprived of their right to object.The ratepayer must have the choice whether to object to their valuation on the grounds of cyclone damage. The proposal to exclude damage caused by Cyclone Gabrielle or other severe weather damage from being a matter of objection is unjustly removing any choice that affected ratepayers have regarding their own property valuation.
Feds is concerned that the information about what the land categories mean is scant, and the mapping is coarse, done on a zoomed out scale and with no property boundaries or road names. It is unclear if the whole property is categorised, or only part, landowners have to guess where their property is on the maps.
The buy-out focus is declared to be only on residential properties and houses. The majority of affected lifestyle and ag/hort properties appear to be mapped but with little information about how they fit into the categories, especially Category 3.
It is Federated Farmers’ fear that landowners will be unable to live on the property where they operate their farm or growing business. It appears that compensation will not be offered for non-residential buildings like farm sheds or for destroyed assets like vines, trees or land.
Any buy-out process must be voluntary. Federated Farmers hopes that the communication with affected landowners is occurring, but it is hard for us to tell.