Track lies between a rock and a hard place

Ken Evans is railing against the costs incurred so far to address the Mauao Base Track damage. Photo: Daniel Hines.

“You won’t believe this – better sit down and take some deep breaths,” advises Ken Evans.

Because Ken, an Edgecumbe Road resident, is a bit gob-smacked.

He’s sharing some numbers gleaned from an official information request about money the Tauranga City Council has spent so far on repairs to the Mauao base track. And he says those numbers are outrageous.

 “The total cost, so far, for temporary steps, multiple consultants and arborists is a staggering $743,090.22! And the real work hasn’t even started yet. Outrageous.”

The council didn’t respond to Ken’s suggestion the amount was excessive. Ken says the cost of repairing the track, by anyone other than the council, could be way below what the council has spent so far just looking at the problem. “Councillors have spent 10 times what it could have cost to fix, just looking at the problem.”

He refers to some independent site inspections with geo-tech engineers which suggest the Mauao base track could be fixed for between $200,000 and $600,000.

Slips brought down by ex-cyclone storms caused extensive damage to the enormously popular track two years ago. A section had to be closed and a temporary set of stairs constructed around the slip. A budget of $2.2 million was approved for remediation work in 2017, but a new plan to build a 350m track along the coastline below slip will blow out the figure by $3, 080,351 to a total cost of $5.2 million.

There might be some up-sizing which would blow it even further – an access ramp to the beach and rock retaining wall to protect the track for $1.3 million, and a long-lasting fibre technology boardwalk at $280,000.

“The costing is unbelievable,” says Ken. “It’s a tiny slip where a tree fell down. That happened coming up two-and-a-half years ago. The engineers are having a field day.” He suggests the council could learn from the Army – “In the South Island when a bridge is washed out, they put in a Bailey Bridge and within a week, cars are running over it. We just need a bridge across the gap.”

But it may not be as simple as that. The track is in councillor Leanne Brown’s ward, her backyard. And she says there’s a need to find the best long-term solution to future proof a vulnerable area of the mountain.

And that may involve a new 350 metre realigned section of track to avoid the area considered slip prone. A council report on the project says the realignment would deliver “a resilient, sustainable, cost effective and robust repair, which recognises the value that Mauao has to the Tauranga community”.

The report also says the council needs to further explore options to repair the mountain, taking into consideration the archaeological resources, ecological environment and cultural values of Mauao. And the authorising of any significant works on Mauao involves a complex consenting process.

“I felt there would be cultural issue,” says Ken. “But everyone’s agreeable to a degree.”

"It is not as simple as bringing in a digger and rocks,” says Leanne Brown.  “Whilst in the eyes of the community, it has taken too long to make a decision on the repair; we need to ensure we find a solution that is possible, will be approved by Mauao’s owners and Heritage New Zealand, and delivers on community expectations."

While this council is seeking more information on the different options to repair the slip, it won’t be their problem. Council staff will meet with the Mauao Trust to discuss options and a plan for the next steps will be presented to the incoming council after the local body elections next month.

And there are three key considerations for council - reinstating access which would also allow for    wheelchairs, pushchairs and less able people, providing a section of track that is resilient to failure in a landslip on a part of Mauao that is prone to slips, and a rock wall to protect the coastal edge from tidal erosion.

There are other considerations in the way of a cheap easy fix. A council report says Mauao is an important recreational asset – more than a million people walk around or climb to the summit of the mount each year. Community consultation has highlighted the strong relationship and connection residents have with Mauao, and the importance of  the  reserve  as  a  visitor  attraction  and  activity  in Tauranga.