Saturday, November 27

Floods cost farmer couple $ 1 million as recovery progresses

It has been four months since the Ashburton district was hit by a flood of one in 200 years and the cleanup is still continuing.

Laurence Rooney's tractor on the flooded farm.

Laurence Rooney’s tractor on the flooded farm in early June.
Photo: RNZ / Katie Todd

With most of the $ 4 million in government aid now accounted for, some farmers are pleading with Wellington to present more.

About half of the dairy farm run by Laurence and Philippa Rooney was covered in six feet of gravel and silt when the Ashburton River overflowed in May.

“The whole farm was under water, the water passed through our house. It’s pretty bad, but no one died, I guess. [so] It could have been worse, but it was pretty terrible. “

Laurence Rooney's beer shed.

Laurence Rooney’s beer shed.
Photo: Katie todd

The last debris was finally cleaned up just a few days ago, which made it possible to sew the paddocks with fresh grass seeds.

But they couldn’t have cows there again until Christmas at the earliest.

Philippa Rooney estimated that they had lost $ 1 million in income by being able to only have half their normal herd on the property, which had ruined their plans for this year.

“Because we were going to buy the farm from my parents this year. To be honest, we were in a pretty good financial position and then everything turned around and backfired.”

“We work very hard. We get up at three o’clock every morning. We have four children. We worked hard last year and [we haven’t got] a lot to show, to be honest. “

While the insurance covered repairs to their home, the rest depended primarily on them.

With a $ 500,000 bill to remove the tons of gravel and silt deposited on their property, the Rooneys expected some support from the government’s $ 4 million relief fund, but this had not happened.

“We were approved for an amount that I think my kids got more in their piggy banks to be honest than they approved of us. We were the hardest hit and we didn’t even get 20 percent of what we asked for.

“Something’s not quite right there, it’s actually a kick to the head.”

Millions to spend on remediation

Federated Farmers mid-Canterbury president David Clark said the fund, which could cover up to half the cost of repairing flood damage, had worked well so far.

But he said it would be up to two years before some of the hardest hit farms were back to 100 percent operation.

“There are some properties that still have significant areas of shingle to be removed. And some of them those shingle removal bills are going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. A property that I know of – has 20 or 30 kilometers of fencing to be built.”

Flooding in the Ashburton Forks area and damage to the bridge approach over the South Branch of the Ashburton River

Flooding in the Ashburton Forks area and damage to the bridge access over the south arm of the Ashburton River.
Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

With just a quarter of the fund to be allocated, he said more government money may be needed in the future to help finish the job.

“The first Minister [Jacinda Ardern made it very clear when she met with us] immediately after the flood and announced the $ 4 million package that it was a start and that more money would be available. I took it in good faith.

“So we’ll wait to see if we need to get back to the prime minister for her to do that.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in Ashburton on Chris Allen's farm.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in Ashburton on Chris Allen’s farm.
Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said it was too early to say whether more money would be needed or whether the government would be willing to hand it over.

“I am not aware of any particular request for me or anyone else for claims that have not been processed. I am sure some of them have not been paid.

“But I hope that the local committee that is distributing this money is making a fair judgment on those people who need help to get back up and running.”

Many said the flooding was compounded by the regional council’s inability to remove gravel from the Ashburton River bed.

Clark said that unless the council and the wider community come up with a plan to finally get this gravel out of the river, it is very possible that they will experience the flooding again.

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