Franz Josef infrastructure gets green light

A new infrastructure project to increase the resilience of the Franz Josef community and the wider Westland economy has been given the green light.

Economic and Regional Development Minister Stuart Nash says phase one of a flood protection scheme for the Waiho River has gained final approval, after West Coast councils put the project to government for COVID recovery support.

“The Franz Josef flood protection project puts fresh investment, confidence and jobs into the local economic recovery,” Mr Nash says.

“The first phase of the project will upgrade the northern stopbanks to protect Franz Josef township from the Waiho River, followed by work on the southern stopbanks. It will take about 18 months and councils estimate it will provide up to 30 fulltime jobs.

“The jobs and commercial activity generated by the project will give the local economy an immediate shot in the arm as it recovers from the loss of international tourists following the global COVID19 pandemic.

“The first phase of the flood protection work involves investment of up to $12.3 million by the government and local councils. The co-funding arrangement involves $9.23 million from government, through the Provincial Development Unit.

“Jobs, businesses, and whole communities depend on resilient infrastructure links on the West Coast. New research into the Alpine Fault also highlights the threats to the town and region from natural hazards.

“The challenges facing Franz Josef and infrastructure on the coast are massive in scale. The earthquake fault line runs down the town’s main street. The Waiho River is fed by the meltwaters of the Franz Josef Glacier and carries enormous boulders and rocks down from the mountains when it floods.

“In 2019 the bridge was swept away by a one in a hundred year flood which also caused widespread destruction around Franz Josef, closed SH6 and hurt the town’s economy. Waka Kotahi-NZTA rebuilt the bridge in just two and a half weeks, but the damage is estimated to have led to an economic loss of up to $50 million for the West Coast.

“The unrelenting forces of nature through earthquakes, floods, and extreme weather events associated with climate change mean this community needs more help than most to plan for its future.

“State Highway 6 is the lifeline that links south Westland to larger towns, ports and rail hubs in the north. It is the path taken by tourists to world-famous destinations in the south such as the Haast wilderness area, Queenstown, Wanaka, Central Otago and Fiordland.

 “Phase one of the flood project is only the start. It is the first step in a staged approach to protecting Franz Josef.  Central government agencies, local government, iwi, businesses and the town’s residents will have to be involved in even longer term planning.

“We need a bigger plan to protect the town and West Coast’s vital infrastructure for decades to come. Government agencies and councils will work alongside the community to deal with these tough issues,” Mr Nash said.