Fears Mt Messenger bypass appeals could delay construction by 12 months

  • 25 Jan

Appeals have been lodged against the SH3 bypass route across the Mt Messenger range.

A major Taranaki roading project could be delayed for up to a year after four appeals were lodged against the $200 million project.

The Department of Conservation, Te Runanga O Ngāti Tāma, Poutama Kaitiaki Charitable Trust, and D and T Pascoe have appealed to the Environment Court on matter related to the approval of the 5.2km Mt Messenger bypass on State Highway 3, north of New Plymouth.

One appeal was against the resource consent, another was against the notice of requirement, and two appeals had been filed against both the resource consent and notice of requirement.

The respondents are Taranaki Regional Council and New Plymouth District Council.

The construction across the Mt Messenger ranges was approved by an independent commissioner in December, subject to appeals.

Roading industry representatives say the appeal process could delay the start of construction by up to 12 months.

DOC had appealed on a number of resource consents granted by the hearing commissioner, and also the notice of requirement, for the construction of the bypass.

A notice of requirement is the documentation lodged by the New Zealand Transport Agency with the New Plymouth District Council, advising an alteration to the district plan to start construction.

The bypass project includes a bridge to reduce the route's impact on wetlands.

DOC wants better protection for kiwi and native fish species from the thousands of vehicles driving along the planned $200m bypass, north of New Plymouth.

In a written statement DOC acting operations manager Brigitte Meier​ said the department's appeal focused on matters relating to long-term pest management, as well as fencing to protect kiwi from traffic, and freshwater fish monitoring.

These matters were not agreed to between DOC and the New Zealand Transport Agency at the hearings last year, Meier said.

Meier said the hearing applications were granted on the basis of intensive pest management and riparian planting over a 3650ha area.

The hearing approved for 200 seedlings planted for every tree removed during the road construction, and a designated pest management area.

The consent conditions require identification of kiwi territories and placing fencing in high risk locations but the current wording did not provide this, Meier said.

"The condition as currently worded does not provide for the fact that kiwi territories and the dispersal behaviour of juvenile kiwi will change over time.

"DOC is appealing this point to seek greater certainty around where roadside fencing is required."

DOC also wanted a better monitoring process for sediment, and fish passages in culverts after the road had been completed.

Commercial road transport advocate Tom Cloke is critical of DOC's decision to appeal bypass.

National Road Carriers Association Taranaki executive member Tom Cloke was critical of DOC and other parties appealing the hearing commissioner's December decision.

​ He said the appeal process would delay the start of the bypass construction by up to 12 months, and add to cost of the $200m project.

Cloke said the new bypass would not now be completed until 2024 at the earliest.

"DOC had ample time to make their points clear during the hearing process, which was extended three months by the independent commissioner to give them more time than was originally time tabled," he said.

"The appeal will now put unrealistic demands on the roading project which will now start in the 2019-2020 summer at the earliest, 12 months behind schedule.

Cloke said DOC's current "frivolous" decision making would see no more new roading projects going ahead in New Zealand unless the "stupidity" shown by the department stopped.

"DOC is in danger of losing the public's support for any future projects."

DOC wants better protection for kiwi and fish from vehicles on the proposed bypass.

The appeal period for the resource consent closed on January 23, while the appeal period for the notice of requirement will close in February, an Environment Court spokesman said.

A second major roadworks scheme on SH3, costing $29.8m, is set to get underway in October when the Awakino Gorge tunnel replaced by two bridges across the Awakino River.