Local News

New bridge for Beaumont, start in 2014
By Matthew Haggart, 28 February 2012
Otago Daily Times

The 124-year-old Beaumont bridge is one of several dilapidated river crossings on Otago's interior state highway network scheduled for replacement as part of a proposed regional transport funding programme.

However, the ageing State Highway 8 bridge across the Clutha River will have to last at least another two years before a proposed date for construction to start, a report says.

A new bridge at Beaumont, a replacement crossing at Queenstown's SH6 southern gateway at Kawerau Falls, and strengthening of the Clydevale bridge, near Balclutha, have all been identified as priority projects for Otago's transport network.

Members of the Otago Regional Council's transport committee will meet next month to decide on a draft programme of prioritised infrastructure projects.

Otago's ageing road bridges have been noted as an issue of concern in need of being addressed at a meeting of transport committee members in Dunedin, yesterday.

A transport report from ORC senior policy analyst Suzanne Watt was tabled at the meeting to committee members, who represent the region's six local council authorities and other public service organisations.

Construction of a new bridge at Beaumont is planned to start in 2014, after strengthening work at the Clydevale crossing in 2012-13, the ORC report says.

Investigation and design stages for the Beaumont bridge is included in the 2012-15 programme.

The report sets out a proposed Otago Regional Land Transport Programme, which outlines the funding priorities for about $423 million worth of projects during the next three years.

Replacement of the Kawerau Falls bridge at Frankton is not included in the priority list of works proposed in the 2012-15 programme, but is "tentatively planned" for 2016, the ORC report says.

The New Zealand Transport Agency spends about $590,000 every year to extend the life of the Beaumont bridge - an amount which was considered "cost effective", NZTA transport planning manager Ian Duncan said last October.

Clutha hydro plans stalled
By Lynda Van Kempen, 23 February 2012
Otago Daily Times

Contact Energy has signalled delays in its plans for further hydro development on the Clutha River, saying the project is on the "back burner" and other developments have greater priority.

In 2009, Contact announced it was revisiting plans for dams on the upper and lower Clutha, at Tuapeka Mouth, Queensberry, Luggate and Beaumont, costing between $300 million and $1.5 billion. The schemes had been proposed by Contact's predecessor, the Electricity Corporation of New Zealand, more than 20 years ago.

Contact chief executive Dennis Barnes was reported this week as saying the Clutha hydro project was on the "back burner". He was unavailable for comment yesterday, but Contact spokeswoman Janet Carson said geothermal energy remained the priority development area for Contact.

However, it continued to investigate wind, hydro and gas-fired developments. Contact was still assessing the four Clutha hydro development options and they "remained open".

Our conversations, data assessments and research undertaken to date are showing that pursuing further hydro development is more likely to be further down the track, probably into the next decade, and we are considering the implications of that."

She declined to elaborate.

The Clutha hydro project was on the "back burner", as opposed to "priority developments" under construction such as the Te Mihi power station, near the Wairakei geothermal power station, northwest of Taupo, Ms Carson said.

There had been no "change of priority" by the company towards hydro development. She declined to comment on how much Contact had spent so far developing the Clutha project.

The Clutha River Forum, an alliance of river and conservation groups opposed to "think-big" hydro development on the Clutha, was set up in 2009. It launched a "Option 5 - no more dams" campaign.

Asked for comment about delays to the hydro project, forum co-ordinator Lewis Verduyn, of Wanaka, said the world was changing rapidly "and these former business-as-usual projects are simply not realistic".

"We've always considered further 'think-big' dams on the Clutha to be inappropriate, outdated and uneconomic. Now, Contact is facing a landslide of economic and environmental issues that were largely unforeseen just a few years ago.

"With electricity demand falling, the high cost of servicing capital and record low flows in the Clutha River, it's difficult to imagine how these plans could ever be viable in the future," he said.

Contact's stance on the project comes in the wake of the decision last month by Meridian Energy to shelve its plans for a $2 billion wind farm on the Lammermoor Range. Meridian chief executive Mark Binns said shelving the Project Hayes wind farm was "a prudent commercial decision", as the company had other higher-priority projects.

Asked at that time if the decision had any impact on the Clutha hydro plans, Contact hydro projects manager Neil Gillespie said the hydro plans were at a different stage from those of Meridian's Project Hayes.

It had a consented project, while Contact had yet to narrow down the options and was "quite some time away" from thinking about resource consents.

NZTA Denies 123-Year-Old Bridge Unsafe
By Matthew Haggart, 25 October 2011
Otago Daily Times

The Beaumont Bridge across the Clutha River. Photo by Craig Baxter. An allegation the ageing one-lane SH8 bridge across the Clutha River at Beaumont is unsafe has been rejected by the New Zealand Transport Agency.

Waitaki deputy mayor Jim Hopkins questioned whether the bridge met minimum safety standards and was in danger of collapse, at a recent meeting of the Otago Regional Council's transport committee.

The NZTA has been spending money on the bridge as it seeks to extend the life of the 123-year-old structure. About $1.5 million was spent on maintenance during the period 2005-10.

A decision on replacing the bridge may be on the back-burner because of the possibility a hydro dam could be built in the area, flooding Beaumont.

Something needed to be done, Mr Hopkins told NZTA staff at the meeting.

"Are we are running a bridge which is so unsafe we have to make trucks stop first, because if they drove on to it at normal speed, it could fall down?"

A maintenance programme of about $215,000 was in place for the bridge last year and $180,000 was spent installing traffic lights at the bridge approaches in June 2010.

"How does the Government of a country justify such a situation given its commitment to safer roads and journeys?" Mr Hopkins asked.

He asked whether the bridge would collapse if trucks drove on to the structure at full speed, which he understood was the reason the lights were installed.

"Are they satisfied with some traffic lights to stop trucks because the bridge [could fail] if they drive on at full speed?"

NZTA southern director Jim Harland said the bridge was not in danger of falling down. The measures taken by NZTA were about "increasing the life of the structure and reducing risk".

"The real solution is to replace the bridge," he said.

NZTA transport planning manager Ian Duncan said the ongoing maintenance costs involved with the bridge would eventually become less financially viable compared with building a new structure.

"It is good money going bad after five years. After that then we will be spending exponentially more money than what it costs to maintain," he told Mr Hopkins.

Mr Duncan said the measures, which have included the installation of traffic lights to control the speed and entry of vehicles on to the bridge, addressed road safety issues and not structural concerns.

A new bridge had been earmarked for construction some time after 2015, he said. However, the NZTA was yet to commission any design plans for a new bridge.

Replacing the bridge might also be affected by a possible Clutha River hydro-electricity scheme, which was still being considered by Contact Energy, Mr Duncan said.

"Contact ... are still undecided." Mr Woodhead asked whether Contact might have to provide some compensation should the Beaumont Valley be flooded for hydro-electricity purposes after a bridge was built.

"They will need to come to the party . . . " Mr Duncan said.

Future of Historic Bridge in Doubt
By Mark Price, 4 December 2009
Otago Daily Times

The New Zealand Transport Agency has begun investigating a replacement for the Beaumont Bridge over the Clutha River.

The 122-year-old single-lane landmark, on State Highway 8 between Lawrence and Raes Junction, costs at least $100,000 per year to maintain.

It will be closed at night next week for repair work. The agency's Otago-Southland regional director, Bruce Richards, told the Otago Daily Times yesterday the bridge "still had some life in it" but replacement needed to be considered.

"It's getting to the stage where you keep repairing it; you're forever repairing it; you've got to say enough's enough. And we're getting close to that."

Up to 1500 vehicles per day used the bridge, including between 100 and 400 heavy vehicles.

A structural report on the bridge was expected to be completed by Easter and Mr Richards said replacement could occur within 10 years, but decisions about future hydro-electrictricity dams on the Clutha would affect planning.

If a proposed dam downstream at Tuapeka Mouth were built, it would flood Beaumont and the bridge.

A dam upstream of Beaumont could provide another option for crossing the Clutha and make a bridge at Beaumont "potentially redundant".

"We've got to make sure we make an appropriate investment. As to whether we can wait or not, that's unknown yet."

Mr Richards said replacement of the bridge was not in the recently adopted regional land-transport programme and he would be taking the project to the regional transport committee as a "variation" to the plan.

Beaumont resident Margaret Healy did not favour dams being built in the district and would prefer to see the bridge replaced at its present site.

She considered the old bridge "an amazing structure" because of its age and the environment in which it was built.

She said many of the maintenance issues were created by trucks crossing the bridge at excessive speed.

Highways manager Niclas Johansson said the bridge would be closed to traffic between 8pm and 6am from Monday, December 7, to Thursday, December 10.

Detours will be available through Clydevale.

Beaumont Bridge Facts:

- First steel bridge in New Zealand.
- Foundations laid by the member of the House of Representatives for Dunstan, Vincent Pyke, on September 20 and 21, 1883.
- First crossing, by a Craig and Co coach, on Monday, March 9, 1887.
- Tolls set at five pence per score of sheep, pigs and calves.
- One shilling per horse and one shilling and eight pence per score of oxen.

Information provided by: Margaret Healy

Beaumont Bridge

Unveiling of Headstone for Chinese Miner
By Yvonne O’Hara, 26 October 2009

Five candles were lit as part of a brief ceremony in Beaumont on Saturday to unveil a headstone commemorating Ah Tie, a Chinese miner who chose to remain in Beaumont rather than follow the gold-rush that tempted many of his compatriots away from Lawrence.

The candles were lit for Ah Tie’s soul, the Wood family for whom he worked for 50 years, the Beaumont community, the RWNZ group and for the guests from Dunedin and Shanghai who attended the ceremony.

The Beaumont Rural Women of New Zealand (RWNZ) branch raised money for the headstone to commemorate Ah Tie and organised the ceremony at the Beaumont Cemetery last Saturday.

They received $1000 from the Chinese Poll Tax Trust towards the cost of the headstone, which was sourced from the Clutha River.

About 50 people, including representatives of the Beaumont and Chinese communities, watched the unveiling by Chinese Poll Tax Trust chairman James Ng, of Dunedin.

‘‘We thought it was a wonderful project,’’ Dr Ng said.

Tuapeka-Lawrence Community Company Ltd chairman Eddie Fitzgerald read a poem he had written about Ah Tie.

RWNZ Beaumont secretary Margaret Healey had spent many hours researching Ah Tie’s life and read out a brief biography of the man who arrived in the area in 1871 and died in 1921.

He arrived in the district to work as a gold miner but remained after the other Chinese gold miners left the area. He spent most of the rest of his life working for the Wood family who owned Dunkeld farm, which is now a dairy farm.

Jean Young (nee Wood), of Lawrence, represented her family and lit one of the candles. When Ah Tie died in June 1921, the Wood family insisted he be buried within the cemetery boundaries, unlike the other Chinese and some Maori, who were buried outside the perimeter. The grave was previously unmarked.

Ah Tie

NZ's Most Threatened Town

Since the 1940s hydro dam proposals have threatened our valley and our community. Time and again we have resisted and endured.

In the mid-1990s a petition against a proposed hydro-electric dam that would flood Beaumont was signed by 26,000 people, and the project was "shelved."

In 1996, Contact Energy inherited these controversial plans and numerous properties in the area that their predecessor, Electrocorp, had bought up. The land in question consists of 4,400 hectares, including two commercial properties, 15 residential sections, nine farms, 15 lifestyle blocks and 43 "small properties".

Most of these properties are situated between Miller's Flat and Tuapeka Mouth, and include some in the township of Beaumont.

Over the years, Contact Energy has done little to maintain these properties, so that buildings have fallen into disrepair, reflecting poorly on our community. Contact Energy has also refused to sell back these properties. This, combined with never-ending uncertainty over the future of our community, has effectively stifled local investment.

In April 2009, Contact Energy proposed four further 'Think Big' dams for the Clutha. Two of the options, Tuapeka Mouth and Beaumont, would submerge our valley.

In May, 2012, Contact Energy announced that it had ceased all work on the proposed dams.

Birch Island / Moa Nui Reserve

Birch Island / Moa Nui Reserve is an ecological 'Noah's Ark' in the Upper Rongahere Gorge. This 1km long island, covering seven hectares, became a protected area under the Conservation Act in 2001.

The Otago Conservation Board unanimously called for Birch Island to be given reserve status as early as 1994. The Department of Conservation began a long and complex process of securing protection after Contact Energy announced in 1996 that it had deferred development plans indefinitely. But the land still remained without protection when the National Party lost power in the 1999 election. The Otago Conservation Board strongly supported Birch Island being brought under the Conservation Act, and Land Information New Zealand also supported the change.

Protection status was awarded primarily because Birch Island has a nationally significant population of invertebrates, surviving in their isolated refuge, ostensibly because the island has remained predator free.

In 1995, scientists investigating the invertebrate fauna on the island discovered several new species, including a Peripatus, a genus of Onychophoran. The Onychophora is an animal somewhat like a permanent caterpillar, part insect and worm. It has been suggested they warrant priority for conservation owing to their status as living fossils, being unchanged in 570 million years. Due to their predatory nature they also have potential as an indicator species in the assessment of biodiversity. Scientists also discovered unusual beetles, moths, snails and springtails.

Birch Island has what is considered to be the most intact ecosystem of its kind in New Zealand.

River Trails Old and New

Beaumont is situated at the junction of regional trails, from Southland, Blue Mountains, Central Otago and Lawrence.

One of the oldest trails in Otago is the route through the Beaumont Gorge, used originally by Maori for mahika kai (traditional hunting, fishing and food gathering), for warfare, and as access to distant greenstone rivers. Beaumont had a major role in both Maori and European times as a trail junction and river crossing.

Today, the Millenium Trail follows the river from Beaumont to near Miller's Flat, along part of the original Maori route inland.

A new trail from Roxburgh to Lawrence - the Clutha Gold Trail, is currently being planned by the Clutha Gold Trail Trust. This will eventually form part of a Mighty Clutha River Trail along the entire Clutha Mata-Au from Wanaka to the sea, combining historic routes used by Maori and European explorers, and countless gold-miners.

The Clutha Mata-Au River Parkway Group proposed the river-length trail in 2003, and now serves as an umbrella organisation for local groups.

Members from the Beaumont Residents Group are involved in trail planning, and together with members of the Clutha Gold Trail Trust and the Parkway Group, we have scouted an excellent route down the true left of the Rongahere Gorge through native bush to Tuapeka. Planning is ongoing.