May 29, 2023

More forestry waste swept into Gisborne river less than a month after boy’s death on slash-covered beach

Related video: Waves are slamming into the coastal areas of the upper North Island.

Forestry slash is again being pushed down the Hikuwai River in Gisborne less than a month after a 12-year-old boy died.

The boy was playing on Waikanae Beach in January when he was injured by a floating log which was part of wood slash that was covering the beach in the wake of Cyclone Hale.

Now less than a month later, heavy rain from Cyclone Gabrielle is sweeping more forestry waste down the river.

Photos sent to Newshub show large planks and other tree debris being pushed down the bloated river.

It’s sparked questions over whether the forestry waste was properly dealt with ahead of Cyclone Gabrielle, which began battering New Zealand on Sunday night.

A spokesperson for Eastland Wood Council said the Hikuwai River is a catchment for a huge range of woody debris which comes from a variety of sources, including forestry, native riverbanks, roadsides, and nearby farmland.

They said because of the lack of time between Cyclone Hale and Cyclone Gabrielle they were unable to clear the riverbank before the wild weather hit again.

“The return of this storm has provided insufficient time to clear this riverbank following Cyclone Hale.

“Following direction by Gisborne District Council, our focus since Cyclone Hale has been on clearing as much of the debris as possible along other rivers and beaches in the areas where GDC asked us to direct our efforts.

“Forestry contractors have completed as much work as possible to clear potential impact sites ahead of the arrival of Cyclone Gabrielle and were working for as long as it was safe to do so over the weekend and this morning.”

The spokesperson said teams are standing by to remobilise and step in to “help our community” as soon as the weather passes.

“While not all the debris that has landed on beaches and riverbeds in recent weeks has come from our forests, we have the skills and tools needed to step in and help our community, and we are committed to doing so again this time.

“Our teams stand ready to remobilise again as soon as it is safe to do so, once the worst of the weather has passed.”

It comes after the family of the boy who died hit out at the forestry industry. Speaking with the NZ Herald on Sunday, his uncle, who did not want to be named, questioned how the forestry industry was allowed to “get away with creating such pollution”.

“I think if it was any other industry creating such pollution it simply wouldn’t be allowed,” he told NZ Herald. “I think it’s disgusting and somebody needs to be held to account.”

It’s not the first time the local community has questioned how the forestry industry handles waste.

Forestry waste products are a particular concern for the district because much of the region’s land is used for plantation forestry.

The waste products such as logs, branches and sticks can cause issues when not disposed of by being swept down rivers and streams during heavy rains. This can exacerbate flooding and clog up the region’s beaches.

In 2018 Tolaga Bay and the Gisborne District was swamped with millions of tonnes of forestry waste after heavy rain which prompted a multiple-million-dollar clean-up.

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