Engineering committee meeting (26 February)

The engineering committee met on 26 February 2015.

Minutes for the meeting have yet to be released. I submitted my apologies for this meeting.

The agenda for this meeting included reports on the following items: (1) funding for the cycle trail between Wakefield and Spooner’s Tunnel, (2) changes to the minor roading improvement programme, (3) an update on planned infrastructure improvements to the Richmond town centre , (4) receipt of the Nelson regional sewerage business unit’s business plan for 2015-16, and (5) an update on the engineering services activities.

Tasman Great Cycle Trail

The council agreed to provide $300,000 in the 2014-15 annual plan for the cycle trail from Wakefield to Spooner’s tunnel, where equivalent funding from the government or other third party was provided.

I always had concerns with the addition of the words “other third parties”, as there was always the possibility, third parties would themselves be funded from council grants. Thus council would effectively be funding more than $300,000, at a time when council needed to apply the brakes to its culture of unbridled spending, and re-prioritise spending to higher priority issues – like protecting peoples homes from storm water flooding, first.

The issue before the council was whether a third party could match the $300,000 with in-kind payments. Staff suggested that they could assess the value of any “in-kind” contribution against market rates to determine a fair value.

In my mind this raised two issues. First, work that would have been volunteered for free would now be valued to extract council funding. There is also the risk that other funding arrangements might adopt a similar strategy. However, the reality is that if businesses raised the money in cash form, they would get it back from doing the work anyway. On that basis I did not see a problem in accepting a fairly determined “in-kind” contribution.

However, in my opinion, the time involvement of staff time (and cost) in determining a fair value was troubling. Troubling in the sense that it was played down in this report, but is often highlighted in other reports (eg the remission of rates for rezoned land) to justify a shorter remission period.

Minor roading improvements

The council’s programme of minor road improvements is estimated to cost $3.2 million.

I note that this value reflects the removal of the proposed $1 million William Street Traffic lights from the minor improvements programme to the long term plan. Something I believe is unnecessary and wrongly prioritises road works over flooding risk.

However, the budget for minor improvements is $2.1 million for the 2014-15 year. This effectively means that some minor improvements will not be done in the 2014-15 year. A prioritised list of minor improvements can be found at page 21 of the agenda.

Changes to the NZTA funding in December 2014 mean that footpaths and cycleway maintenance or improvements could receive subsidies from 2015-16 onwards.

Changes also mean that the under-grounding of power-lines in Motueka (costing council $210,000 and Network Tasman $1.5 million) would also be subject to subsidised funding on the basis of the additional safety benefits. On this basis, staff sought to reclassify the Motueka under-grounding work so it could be funded from the minor improvement budget.

NZTA’s changes to subsidising road safety improvements (like under-grounding power poles) could mean other areas (like Brightwater) might also benefit from under-grounding work. Staff will be recommending changes to the LTP to take advantage of the NZTA changes without increasing councils overall planned expenditure (and thereby not placing pressure on rates).

Staff also sought to defer expenditure on the Motueka high street signalised crossing until 2015-16 due to the need for further consultation with NZTA, who raised concerns over the timing and staging of planned work.

Richmond town centre

Staff reported on progress with the storm water options for the town centre project. The report contains some very useful hydrology modelling and diagrams.

However, the modelling does not include the Richmond south area (eg, Richmond cemetery, Wensley Road, Bateup Road, and Hart Road) which was under water in 2011. Two years on, Richmond south has lost much of the rural grass land to development, that has increased the hard surface area for water run off into the storm water system. And no doubt has contributed to increasing flood risk in the central business district and wider urban areas.

If there is one submission Richmond residents can make to the long term plan (LTP), it is a call for the council to start storm water work now, not later, and ahead of other spending (for example, road or traffic flow improvements). Mitigating flooding risk now, rather than later, just makes sense. Unfortunately, not all councillors see it this way?

Information and submissions on the LTP can be made from http://www.tasman.govt.nz/policy/public-consultation/2015-2025-long-term-plan/.

Sewerage business

Tasman sewerage is managed by a jointly owned entity (called the Nelson Regional Sewerage Business Unit or “NRSBU”) with Nelson council. Overall, the operation is running well.

The treatment plant is considered to have adequate capacity for disposal of treated waste and biosolids up to 2025, without further investment. Total operation costs are around $5.8 million, trending up to $6.4 million by 2019-20, and projected to trend towards $6.1 million by 2026-27.

Engineering services activities

It is always reassuring when there is not much to comment on.

The overall financial picture for the engineering department for the year ended January 2015 appears healthy. Operating income and expenditure is better than budgeted forecasts, with a positive variance of $3.5 million at this time.

Generally, there have been no significant issues in the areas of transportation, water, or waste. And any breakages or failures have been fixed promptly and within budgets.

Most projected work is on track with only a few projects experiencing issues (mainly around land ownership issues) that might risk delays. These include:

  • Murchison water treatment plant upgrade to bring drinking water up to standard (to be completed in March 2015),
  • Champion Road storm water culvert upgrade to Q100 specifications, and
  • Richmond water catchment modeling and town centre master plan (behind schedule).

A few items of interest include:

  • It is projected that $5.2 million may need to be carried forward into the next financial year to complete outstanding planned capital works.
  • New kerbing, storm water improvements, footpaths, and construction of new grass berms have been completed in Angelus Avenue (Richmond). This is a new development off Hill Street. I’ve noticed on walking around the development how some parts (rocks stock to part of the concrete flooring) of the storm water system had already come loose. I understand the storm water system is warranted by the developer for the next three years.
  • $1.7 million of LED street lighting will be rolled out in early 2015.
  • The narrow bridge replacement contract has been awarded and work is expected to be completed by April 2015.

Agenda and minutes

The agenda and minutes are located at http://www.tasman.govt.nz/council/council-meetings/standing-committees-meetings/engineering-services-committee-meetings/?path=/EDMS/Public/Meetings/EngineeringServicesCommittee/2015/2015-02-26.

Media

Waimea Weekly “Spooner’s cycle tunnel all go” (4 March 2015). See http://issuu.com/waimea-weekly/docs/040315/1?e=1913941/11709681.

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