Te Urewera’s rutted doorstep

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IN A RUT: Rongowhakaata Biddle and Davina Bassett have to travel the rutted dirt sections of the Matahi Valley Road every day and are concerned about the safety of their charges because of its poor state. Photo Louis Klaassen D5704-05

IT’S described as the doorstep to Te Urewera but those who regularly have to travel the Matahi Valley Road say it is an accident waiting to happen.

Every weekday morning, Davina Bassett travels more than 20 kilometers along Matahi Valley Road and picks up her co-worker Rongowhakaata Biddle from her home.

They then turn around and make a slow trip back down the road, picking up some of the children who attend the kohanga reo

According to the women, the trips had to be slow because of the state of the road.

About 5km from Tanatana Kohanga Reo, or 10km from State Highway 2, the seal on the road stops and Ms Biddle said it becomes little more than a dirt path with shingle in some places.

She said in winter the dirt road turns into a muddy trek and in summer the dust from the road blows into the water supplies of some of the houses, sometimes making people sick.

With more than 100 people living in the Matahi Valley, at least two other kohanga reo vans use the road as well as private cars, a school van and a bus. It also provides access to Te Urewera and the Lions Hut and as a result many tourists and visitors also use the road.

Ms Biddle said some sections of the road were too narrow for two vehicles to pass, so often drivers would have to pull to the side into deep ditches.

“If you don’t have a four-wheel drive, well, you could be there forever trying to get out but if you have a four wheel drive then you should be sweet.”

Ms Biddle said more than 30 years ago, their grandmother fought to have the road sealed. At that time, the Whakatane District Council agreed to seal the road in sections where there were houses and promised to seal a new section every couple of years.

But that promise went by the wayside long ago and now Ms Biddle said the council just drops off loads of shingle to help with the rutted dirt track. She said after the storms in April, the road became particularly bad and so many of those living in the Matahi Valley were unhappy.

“Heaps of people contacted the council to complain and they were coming up to do work but it was just making it worse.

“They would just drop piles of rocks in places and when you would come across them you wouldn’t know which way you were meant to go to get around them.

“Our roads need to be tar sealed. They need to do what they promised.”

Whakatane District Council transportation manager Martin Taylor said there was no funding to seal Matahi Valley Road.

“Approximately 200km of the council’s 900km roading network is unsealed and currently, no funding is available for further seal extensions. This decision was made six years ago when the council decided there were more pressing infrastructure needs requiring investment, such as major flood prevention works and stormwater improvements,” he said.

“When the council was actively sealing its unsealed roads, it prioritised the work programme each year to focus on areas where there would be the greatest benefit. This saw sealing undertaken past residential areas, rather than the sections in-between where there were no houses. Matahi Valley Road is a good example of this prioritisation.

“At this point, there is no proposal for the council to recommence its seal extension programme, but the community could provide feedback to the council on this subject when it consults on the priorities for spending as part of the next long-term plan (2018-21).

“If there is sufficient support for a resumption of seal extensions, the council may well reconsider its current position, but it’s important to note that the council always has to determine which projects will provide the greatest benefit to the community, and therefore where it should be focusing its investment.”




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