NZTA project Project

Engaging with the environment at Taupiri

The Huntly section of the Transport Agency’s Waikato Expressway project had a couple of interesting challenges that have been overcome with great success. Engagement with concerned parties has ensured the road could be built through an area sacred to local Maori and land administered by the Department of Conservation. By Mary Searle Bell.

STRETCHING FOR 15.2 KILOMETRES, this piece of the project is moving a busy part of State Highway 1 away from the township of Huntly. A key geographical feature of the area is Taupiri Range, land sacred to the Waikato-Tainui iwi.

Kaiarahi, Kawe Nikora, one of the project’s kaitiaki, is pictured sitting as the spirit guide after koiwi (human skeletal remains) were found on site. On the right is project director Tony Dickens.

At the designation hearing the iwi objected to the project. However, an innovative and award-winning solution was achieved with the NZTA forming a ‘tangata whenua’ working group. This group was made up of a representative from each of the 25 local marae. Together, they worked through the objections – finding ways to mitigate the issues.

In return, the tribe withdrew their submission of objection and the project was able to proceed without having to go through the Environment Court.

The first of its kind, the Huntly section has a kaiarahi – or cultural guide – embedded in the project team. She provides the necessary information on the correct protocols to follow for various scenarios.

For example, when earthworks uncovered ancient bones of a young male, the contractors turned to the kaiarahi for guidance on how to deal with them appropriately. Liaising with the tangata whenua working group, she arranged for a spirit guide to sit with the bones, as per Maori protocol, until they were removed by an archaeologist for examination, ensured the history was recorded and the bones reburied, and had the site blessed by the local iwi before returning it to the contractors to continue their work.

Thanks to this close working arrangement, the contractors were back at work in less than a week.

The project has also discovered ancient kumara gardens. There are also two pa sites in the construction zone, which are protected by the Historic Places Trust. The kaiarahi provided guidance around the reconstruction of the timber palisades and planting on the pa.

Project director Tony Dickens, from the Fulton Hogan-HEB joint venture, says the involvement of iwi is a very big feature of the project.

“The Waikato-Tainui consider the Taupiri Range precious,” he says. “It’s a step forward for them and the NZTA to agree for a road to be built here.”

Working with the kaiarahi on the project team are nine kaitiaki – or guardians. It is their job to watch over work, ensuring the environment is treated with respect.

These cultural observers are based on site – they go through the safety briefings each day with the site supervisors and head out to watch certain jobs, like topsoil stripping, tree felling, swamps being mucked out or streams diverted. They also provide the necessary cultural services – such as saying a blessing before trees are felled.

“They ensure we do everything right in areas we are unfamiliar with,” says Tony. “Wherever we have interactions with flora and fauna, they are there to make sure it’s treated well.”

Fulton Hogan-HEB and the NZTA also meet monthly on site with the tangata whenua working group. Tony gives a presentation on where the project is at, and the working group is then able to raise any concerns they have.

“We figure out a plan together, and I always do what I say I’m going to do,” says Tony. “We have a good relationship, which comes down to meeting often.”

Several Waikato projects have benefitted from this kind of iwi involvement, and Tony says we will only see more of it. The Hamilton section of the project has already followed suit, and the NZTA project in Warkworth is also adopting the arrangement.

The Huntly section has a significant amount of earthworks. The biggest is a 57-metre cut at Taupiri Pass, which is removing 1.2 million cubic metres of earth from the mountain range. Elsewhere, there are lots of ground improvement works underway.

“The very soft ground is a big challenge,” Tony explains. “At the bridge sites, we’ve being driving telephone poles into the ground to improve it – they prevent liquefaction from happening.”

Wick drains are being used to firm up the ground where the old Huntly East coalmine dumped its tailings back in the 1940s, and there are “heaps and heaps of gullies – up to five metres deep – in the swamp that we are having to dig out and fill”. A number of streams are being diverted too.

The earthworks also cut through a corner of the Taupiri Scientific Reserve, which is administered by the Department of Conservation. The project is removing one hectare from the 620-hectare block, and the agreement with DOC has seen Fulton Hogan-HEB undertake wide-scale pest extermination.

“We had to kill all the stoats, rats and possums in the entire reserve,” says Tony. “Thousands of bait stations were established all over the 620-hectare block by professional pest eradicators and we achieved a 99 percent strike rate on the first poisoning. Professional hunters were also engaged to shoot over 700 feral goats.

“I feel quite good about it,” Tony told Contractor. “It’s the first time I’ve been involved in pest eradication. The bird population has shown an increase in just one breeding season.”

As part of the arrangement with DOC, Fulton Hogan-HEB has to keep the reserve pest free for the next 10 years – a task they will subcontract out.

As you would expect, there were stringent requirements to meet to ensure the preservation of native wildlife when it came to clearing the one-hectare corner where the road will be built.

“We rescued 23 lizards and geckos,” says Tony. “And every day before cutting down a tree we had to look for bats.”

With the summer earthworks season over, things are relatively quiet on site at the moment. Fulton Hogan-HEB has in fact diverted several men and machines down to Kaikoura to help out in the quake recovery work.

Things will get going again on October 1, and there’s a bit of catching up to do then.

The target was to move two million cubic metres of material over the earthworks season to May 1 2017, and the team was on target until four major rain events hit them and only 1.7 million cubic metres were shifted.

“We had a wet, horrible, miserable summer,” says Tony. “We were tracking well going into the end of March, then it started raining. It just got wetter and wetter and wetter. We ended up with 90 earthworks days when we needed 110 or 120.”

Nevertheless Tony is pleased with the progress they’ve made and, although they missed their targets for the past summer, they’re still on programme.

“We can’t work miracles when it’s raining,” he says. “I’m happy – we’re set up for next summer.”

This article first appeared in Contractor August 2017.

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