13 Sep 2023

Surveyors working in Hawkes Bay on Cyclone Gabrielle recovery say the biggest challenge they face is having enough staff on the ground as the construction season gets underway.

Consultancy firm CKL has been surveying sites in the Wairoa District including compromised bridges and roads, some completely washed away in February’s severe weather, leaving rural communities completely disconnected.

Senior Surveyor Steve Rickerby has worked for CKL for 26 years and has returned to fieldwork to help with the rebuild and is now in charge of surveying sites in the area from Wairoa to Fraser Town and up to Lake Waikaremoana.

“Once you move off the State Highway network the devastation is incredible. There are still communities out here that are completely cut off. For some people to travel to Gisborne it’s a 150km round trip when it used to be 40km,” says Steve.

“We have a very limited amount of experienced construction and survey people in New Zealand and with the main construction season about to get underway, having enough people on the ground is one of the industry’s biggest challenges,” says Steve.

Three roads remain completely closed in the Wairoa District while six are considered four-wheel-drive only. Three bridges are nearly entirely collapsed, three are severely undermined. A further seven have serious issues.

“It’s a white-knuckle ride out to some of these places and the devastation is such that you just don’t want to look out your side window. There are 100 metre drops and areas down to one lane on blind corners,” says Steve.

For many in the community, Steve has been the first sign of the rebuild effort as he surveys sites to provide data to engineers and construction companies who will design and reinstate the roads and bridges.

“We provide the data for them so they can design the jobs and then we return throughout the project to make sure what we set out is still correct for the construction,” says Steve.
With construction season about to kick off things are expected to get even busier in Hawkes Bay.

“October is usually when the work season really starts as the weather begins improving. It has taken a long time, but it also just hasn’t stopped raining, and the devastation is such that for many of these areas it will be a three-to-four-year job,” says Steve.

It is not only the bridges and roads themselves that need to be reinstated, in many cases it is also services that need to be reconnected. Steve says every day is different and throws up new challenges.

“It is an evolving story, but these communities are very resilient,” says Steve.

He has also seen Kiwi ingenuity in action on some of the 10 sites he has been surveying recently including a site in Te Puna where contractors are building a new road using crushed river rock as aggregate.

“I turned up and thought they were building a bridge, but they were building a road, and they had a rock crusher on site crushing up the river rocks to use as the aggregate,” says Steve.

“The simple fact of being able to cross a bridge and be where you need to be is gone for many of these communities and the sheer scale means there’s a lot of people needed and a lot of moving parts.”

Hawkes Bay recovery underway but more staff are needed as construction season beginsHawkes Bay recovery underway but more staff are needed as construction season begins