New Zealand will hold an inquiry to investigate forestry slash and land use causing woody debris and sediment-related damage in Gisborne and Wairoa after Cyclone Gabrielle lashed the North Island and killed 11 people.
Thousands are still uncontactable.
The two-month inquiry will help address the impacts of weather events such as cyclones Hale and Gabrielle and earlier events, according to the inquiry panel.
It will investigate past and current land-use practices and the impact of woody debris including forestry slash and sediment on communities, livestock, buildings and the environment.
The panel said it would also look at associated economic drivers and constraints. The inquiry members are former government minister and Gisborne resident Hekia Parata, who is also chair of the panel, former regional council chief executive Bill Bayfield and forestry engineer Matthew McCloy.
“Woody debris and sediment are particular issues for these communities following storms,” Forestry Minister Stuart Nash said, adding that more than 10,000 local residents have petitioned for land use to be better managed.
“The inquiry will investigate storm damage and its causes, current practices and regulatory and policy settings,” Mr Nash said.
The panel will make recommendations to improve land use including changes needed for practices and regulation at central and local government levels.
People in affected communities and the wider public will be invited to provide feedback to the panel.
New Zealand declared state of emergency on February 13, the third time in the country’s history, due to the devastating weather event which caused widespread power outages, flight cancellations and school closures in the North Island.
The natural disaster has also left its mark on the New Zealand pulp and forestry group Pan Pac Forest Products.
On its website, the company announced that the Whirinaki site was closed until further notice. The New Zealand Herald newspaper reported that, following assessments of the storm damage, Pan Pac had decided to rebuild the mill rather than closing it down permanently or moving it elsewhere.
Pan Pac is owned by Japanese pulp and paper group Oji Holdings. The company makes bleached chemi-thermomechanical pulp in Whirinaki, which is located in the Hawke’s Bay region of north-eastern New Zealand. With a daily capacity of 850 t, the mill makes pulp sold all over the world and is also home to a sawmill. Pan Pac operates another sawmill in Milburn in the Otago region in the very south of the country. The two sawmills have a combined radiata pine lumber capacity of 530,000 cub m a year. The firm also owns several forest estates.
Authorities say rebuilding New Zealand after Cyclone Gabrielle will cost billions of dollars, on par with the Christchurch earthquake 12 years ago.
Many of the roads damaged by Gabrielle are still closed. Tanker trucks cannot collect milk, logging has been suspended over a wide area and meat processing has scaled down.
Gabrielle brought widespread flooding to the North Island in mid-February, damaging roads and bridges.
“It’s going to be the biggest weather event this century, with a billion dollar price tag,” Finance Minister Grant Robertson said.
Mr Robertson told TVNZ that the government would first attend to survivors’ most urgent needs – food, shelter, electricity and communications.
“We have a long journey ahead of us to rebuild after this disaster, but we have the resources to do it, and we have the will to do it,” Mr Robertson said.
Farmers lost entire harvests and herds to the floods and authorities are still determining how much of it will be covered by insurance.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has announced an additional $NZ250 million to fix damaged roads and a $NZ50 million support package to give immediate relief for businesses.
New Zealand spent $13 billion to rebuild from the powerful earthquake in the South Island in 2011 that levelled much of the Christchurch city centre and left 185 people dead and thousands homeless.
Grant Robertson blamed the extent of the damage inflicted by Gabrielle on New Zealand’s failure to build infrastructure that’s resilient to climate change, adding that the current approach to adapt “has not been sufficiently robust”.
He said not even tens of billions of dollars in additional infrastructure spending over the next five years could fill in the gaps.
“The deficit is so large, we will not be able to make up for it in the long term,” he said.
- With extracts from Australian Associated Press reports.