Every time there’s heavy rain, Craig Hopkins is afraid to leave his home.
He’s scared large dams of forestry logging debris or “slash” upstream from his property will burst, bringing large logs and boulders over the road.
It’s happened before.
Last year, a slash dam burst during a weather event, bringing forestry debris on to the road near his property, including large logs and a boulder the size of a car.
“There’s mountains of it up there. The [dams] are high and if the whole lot comes down … if you timed it at the wrong time when one of those dams happened to give way, you’d be killed,” he said.
Hopkins, who has owned his rural property at Puriri, south of Thames, for 20 years, never had a problem until China Forestry Group New Zealand [CFG] put in an access road and felled the forest a few years ago.
“Their newly constructed road is parallel to this little stream and ford crossing and where they’ve had their turn around at the end of their road is where they’ve done all their chopping and what-not.
“There’s a mountain of wood up there which has been washed into the stream.”
The new forestry road also cut off two large ditches that used to carry water away from neighbouring properties during wet weather, he said. No culverts were put in place, causing water, mud and rocks to flow over the road and into his property every time there’s heavy rain – causing thousands of dollars in damage.
“A massive swamp has now been created directly above my property in a flat area. None of it drains anywhere near where it used to, it now all pours over the bank on to the road, through culverts, through my paddocks and on to my driveway.
“Whenever it rains, it all just pours off at two or three places along the forest, which it never used to do because it used to drain into the stream. It washes out the road and fills it full of crap.”
He recently had several truckloads of the gravel and debris removed from his property and had to get a $2500 loan to repair the damage done to his driveway because it was unusable.
Hopkins’ plans to build a home on the site are on hold because every time there’s heavy rain, water, mud and debris flow through the house site, causing damage.
Hopkins has laid complaints with Waikato Regional Council [WRC], Thames Coromandel District Council [TCDC] and PF Olsen, which is contracted to provide a range of services to CFG, including on this forestry block.
Site visits from all three have been made, but nothing’s been done.
He believes culverts need to be put in and drains restored and regularly cleared to remedy the problem. The forestry slash also needed to be cleaned up before it was washed down again, he said.
He was frustrated that WRC allowed the forestry company to change the water course, damaging neighbouring properties, when council rules were so strict for everybody else, he said.
“It really, really grates me. How are they allowed to not maintain the drains and just create a swamp, which has changed the whole water table of the whole entire area with water pouring over the road?
“And the [TCDC] rate payers are paying every five minutes for the council to go up there [to clear it].”
CFG chief operating officer Steve Walker said he was not aware of any issues in the area until contacted by Stuff, and has since asked for an update from PF Olsen.
This would be followed by a site visit by the CFG regional manager this week, he said.
“We will be in more of a position to make comment after a site visit,” he said.
A WRC spokesperson said council staff had asked the forest management company to identify if a debris trap were required in the stream, and whether there was a site suitable for a debris trap, where it could be safely constructed and maintained.
The access road was formed on the alignment of a pre-existing track, she said.
“Any soil disturbance associated with the construction of the access road was covered by an existing land use consent for soil disturbance within the forest.
“No culverts were required under the access road because it was kept away from any known wet areas, including water courses.”
A TCDC spokesperson said council was looking at options to improve the roadside drainage along Neavesville Rd to mitigate the effects on Hopkins’ land.
“We have met a representative of the landowner of the forestry block across Neavesville Rd, up the hill from Mr Hopkins’ property, and they have agreed to carry out some improvements to drainage to reduce run-off on to the road and direct it to a stream,” he said.
“Our council has a responsibility to keep council roads clear of debris so they can be used safely. Where large amounts of forestry slash is required to be cleared off a road after a rain event then we would approach the forestry company to recover the costs of removal.”