Buller District Council worried it can't pay for road to Karamea

ALDEN WILLIAMS/STUFF Karamea is the northern most settlement on the West Coast of the South Island. (Video first published in March 2020)

The cost of maintaining the sole road from Westport to Karamea, prone to slips and closures after bad weather, may fall on ratepayers. 

The Buller District Council is in negotiations with the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) as it wants ratepayers to shoulder some of the cost of maintaining the road. It is estimated the cost on ratepayers could be about £228,000 a year – or about £40 each.

Buller mayor Jamie Cleine said he was “pushing back” to ensure his ratepayers were not burdened with a rate rise to pay for the road, which he believed should retain its status as a state highway. 

He said it was a vulnerable but vital link to Karamea, the northern-most town on the West Coast. 

Formerly State Highway 67, the 62-kilometre section of the road from Mohikinui to Karamea was classed as a special purpose road in 1992. NZTA pays for all upkeep of the road, but launched a review of the policy in 2013 and proposes to reduce its funding to 67 per cent by 2023.

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Cleine said NZTA was phasing out special purpose roads by 2023 and passing management of them back to councils. 

“The road is extremely vulnerable and it means a risk and a cost to the ratepayers on an ongoing basis.”

The Karamea Highway may lose its full NZTA maintenance subsidy, leaving ratepayers out of pocket.

ALDEN WILLIAMS/STUFF

The Karamea Highway may lose its full NZTA maintenance subsidy, leaving ratepayers out of pocket.

The road traversed rugged terrain and was vulnerable to weather events, slumping and slips.

“The road provides a vital lifeline to the Karamea community. It’s a significant tourism route to the Heaphy Track and takes daily dairy tanker traffic.”

Every £100,000 that had to be spend maintaining the road would would mean a 1 per cent rate rise across the district, he said.

NZTA regional relationships director Jim Harland said it was identified early on that some special purpose roads may need to be considered as special cases – “for instance because of their unique characteristics and/or particular constraints on a council’s ability to fund maintenance or improvement costs”.

He said the transition plan was not finalised yet, but one option was for NZTA to pay 100 per cent of emergency works and major improvements, and then the Buller District Council would only have to pay 34 per cent of maintenance costs. 

Buller mayor Jamie Cleine is campaigning for NZTA to keep paying for the maintenance of the road to Karamea.

Supplied Buller mayor Jamie Cleine is campaigning for NZTA to keep paying for the maintenance of the road to Karamea.

The estimated cost of emergency works is £7.8 million over the next 10 years. 

NZTA had spent an average of £960,000 a year on the road over the last 10 years, of which 70 per cent was for maintenance.

Therefore, if the council had to pay 34 per cent of that, it would be facing an annual bill of £228,000.

For its 5500 ratepayers, that would mean more than £40 extra on their rates. 

Harland said maintenance costs were “reasonably consistent” compared to unpredictable emergency response costs.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford said NZTA had been working closely with the Buller District Council on the funding arrangements for Karamea Rd, and were exploring a range of options for managing the transition.

“The Transport Agency has allocated £2.7m for improvements to Karamea Rd through the current National Land Transport Programme to ensure the road is in good condition before the proposed transition in 2023,” he said.

Karamea is at the top of the West Coast.

ALDEN WILLIAMS/STUFF

Karamea is at the top of the West Coast.

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