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‘Very stressed’: Bluecliffs residents unhappy over evacuation

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Local Democracy Reporter

07 March 2024, 7:03 AM

‘Very stressed’: Bluecliffs residents unhappy over evacuationAn aerial view of coastal Southland settlement Bluecliffs which is set for evacuation tomorrow ahead of work to clear the dump site. Photo: Emergency Management Southland/Supplied

A Bluecliffs resident has warned the evacuation of the seaside township is not going to be peaceful due to frustrations with how how they’ve been treated.

The small hamlet at the mouth of the Waiau River — 10km from Tūātapere in Southland — has been under a state of emergency since February 8 in the wake of ongoing erosion problems accelerated by the nearby river.

Residents are now being asked by Emergency Management Southland to vacate their properties by 4pm Friday as attention turns to an old community dumpsite dangerously close to the sea.

The tip could contain explosives, asbestos and other hazardous material, so a protection zone with a 1km radius has been set up for safety purchases while it's cleared.

Glenn Puna, a crib owner at Bluecliffs and spokesperson for the community, said people were “very stressed”.

“I’m pretty sure anyone who’s given two days notice is going to struggle to get things organised in time,” he said.

Glenn Puna is a batch owner at Bluecliffs. He said more warning would have been better for the upcoming evacuation. Photo: ODT/Supplied.

“Two weeks would have been better than two days. Two weeks gives people time to get over the emotion of it, to get themselves organised and to get ready to go peacefully.

“Tomorrow’s not going to go peacefully.”

Puna said there were permanent residents who were already “up in arms”, and lawyers had been contacted.

Emergency Management Southland controller Lucy Hicks said work to clear the dump site — which had been used for illegal tipping as recently as 2000 — would begin on Saturday and continue for up to three weeks.

Accommodation had been organised in Tūātapere for permanent residents during that time, and people within that category could return home between 6.30pm and 8pm every night.

The evacuation is just the latest disruption for residents who have been living under a state of emergency for four weeks.

During a single day in February, about 3m of land was lost to erosion at the hands of the river.

An effort to cut into the bar in hopes to realign the river’s flow had also been unsuccessful, despite emergency management announcing work was complete.

Puna was critical of how the situation had been handled since the state of emergency was called.

He said repeated requests from the community to meet with key parties had fallen on deaf ears prior to a Wednesday meeting with Emergency Management Southland, Environment Southland and Southland District Council.

At an original meeting on February 12, he said residents asked for a rock wall to be built but had their request disregarded.

The unsuccessful attempt at opening the bar in late February had even prompted them to take matters into their own hands.

“A group of us went over with shovels to try and give it a go, but we got forced out by the high tide.

“So we were like ‘far out, they’ve just walked away’.”

Mayor Rob Scott has indicated managed retreat is the only long-term solution for Bluecliffs residents, but Puna wants to see more fight.

“There’s fear that they’re going to get the dump site cleaned then walk away and not worry about the mouth opening, which would mean that they’re not worried about saving our houses,” he said.

In response to questions from Local Democracy Reporting, Emergency Management Southland controller Lucy Hicks said the cut in the river bar made on February 22 was short lived due to sea swells pushing gravel and closing the opening.

The job was larger in scale than first anticipated and the material more difficult to move, she said.

A review of the work and assessment of next steps was expected in the next two weeks.

“We were upfront with the community that the success of a cut into the bar was not guaranteed,” Hicks said.

“Given the complex and dynamic environment out there, it was only going to be a short-term mitigation at best, not a long-term solution.”

Suggestions of creating barriers and rock walls appeared straightforward but required detailed engineering input, costing, consenting and time, she said.

“These need to be considered as medium to long-term actions, with more community involvement, and as part of a council's long-term plans.”

Hicks acknowledged two days’ notice was short for the upcoming evacuation, but said a state of emergency was in place and safety was paramount.

The removal of waste from the dump site follows a successful funding bid by Environment Southland and Southland District Council which saw $1.35 million granted by the Government.

Bluecliffs is home to just under 20 houses and six permanent residents.

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air

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