Ōpōtiki Harbour construction passes the halfway mark
Construction in Ōpōtiki of one of the largest pieces of non-roading infrastructure seen in New Zealand in decades has now reached the halfway mark, with the Bay of Plenty town’s Mayor, Lyn Riesterer, describing progress as “outstanding.”
Two years ago today, the government announced that Ōpōtiki’s funding bid for an ambitious Harbour Development Project had been successful and would be supported by Kānoa - RDU, the government’s regional economic development and investment unit.
The $100 million redevelopment will re-establish the Ōpōtiki harbour, build two training walls and open a new harbour entrance while closing the existing one. When completed, it will bring many benefits to the town, including helping the region’s aquaculture industry develop even further.
Ōpōtiki Mayor, Lyn Riesterer, said the successful funding bid was the result of decades of hard work to make the town’s vision reality.
“I think we often get used to waiting for things in government land and Ōpōtiki is very good at waiting. We waited and worked for more than 20 years for this! But when we said we were ‘shovel ready’, we meant it,” Mayor Riesterer, said.
“You can see just how fast we have built these huge seawalls. They are already out past the breakers and are over the halfway mark. You now start to get an indication of the size and scale of our project.
“The success with the harbour is a testament to the current council and many years of councils, councillors, and of course my predecessor as mayor John Forbes who drove this passion for decades.
“It is also a tribute to what can be achieved through genuine partnership – with iwi, with government and with the regional council which was willing to put funding in the game early on in this process.”
Lyn Riesterer said the investment is already helping Ōpōtiki and its people.
“As the mayor, I get a unique view of progress on this project – I can celebrate the technical milestones and the build of the infrastructure. But I can also see the social and economic changes it is already bringing to the community.
“In conjunction with our sister development, Whakatōhea’s aquaculture industry, we have hundreds of new jobs here in town. I often hear from people who are coming home and new people who are taking opportunities and deciding to move here.
“Our benefits aren’t just measured in rocks and hanbars - they are measured in growth, positive social change and new opportunities,” Mayor Riesterer said.
Measuring the rocks and hanbars
John Galbraith is the Project Director. He said the project will re-establish the Ōpōtiki harbour.
“Ōpōtiki has a long history with its port. It provided a strong base for trading and enterprise that was the backbone of Ōpōtiki’s prosperous past. This project will improve navigability and safety for a range of vessels, particularly those associated with the operational marine farm located offshore from Ōpōtiki”, John Galbraith said.
“Within months of the announcement that the project had been approved, we had contracts in place for construction and rock supply, work had started on access roads and hanbar manufacturing was underway.
“Hanbars are heavy concrete structures which protect the harbour’s rock structure from waves and scouring. The moulds and the concrete for the hanbars are all being made locally by two hard-working businesses.
“We now have three large cranes and numerous other pieces of machinery on site building the walls and carrying out ground compaction works. The sea walls are now at 60% of their final length and they’ll be completed by the end of this year.
“From there, we’ll start slowly opening the new harbour entrance at the same time we close the existing one, with the river flowing fully between the new seawalls by the second half of 2023.
“This project is also providing jobs. We have more than 90 direct employees working on the project, including our newest addition, an engineering harbour cadet recruited direct from Ōpōtiki College who is a great addition to the team.” Mr Galbraith said.
Measuring other benefits
Ōpōtiki District Council Chief Executive, Aileen Lawrie, said the project has been built from the ground up, with community wellbeing as its core driving factor.
“This project has always been socially driven – from procurement to final outcomes, this project is all about ensuring the benefits flow directly to this community in jobs, in new opportunities, in training, in better pay and conditions, in all the offshoots that access to the sea brings.
“At the same time as we are building the infrastructure, Council is working to improve the town, facilities and infrastructure so we are ready for this growth and can benefit from it.
“The Ōpōtiki community has scraped by for a long time and have gone without things like nice gardens and footpaths. Now our streets and spaces look wonderful.
“We have Te Tāhuhu o Te Rangi – our stunning new library and community hub in the town centre. New children’s playgrounds and a splash pad. A very popular improved and extended skate park. Cycleways, horse trails, footpaths and all the things like sewer pipes you can’t see below the ground that show we are lifting the whole community, not just building a big piece of infrastructure,” Ms Lawrie said.
Someone who sees this change first-hand is Barbara McLennan, the Workforce Development Co-Ordinator at Ōpōtiki District Council.
Barbara has been working alongside this project for many years, and understands not just the job numbers, but the people behind those jobs and the changes the investment brings.
“Our main contractors, HEB construction, are really on board with keeping as much work as possible local. Almost half of the positions directly employed or contracted as part of the harbour construction are filled by locals, and three Ōpōtiki College graduates have apprenticeships with HEB.
“Because of the confidence the Harbour Development is providing, construction on Whakatōhea Mussels (Ōpōtiki) Ltd‘s processing factory was also fast-tracked and now employs more than 140 people. More than 80% of those employees are locals and there are many additional local contracts for things such as transporting the produce, and the volume of this will only grow.
“While it’s more difficult to fully quantify indirect jobs, we see many in engineering, mechanical repairs, retail, hospitality and accommodation. Local businesses report they are doing well as they grow, with a lot of local recruitment, taking on apprentices and investing in buildings and infrastructure.
“Only a few years ago, it was a challenge helping local rangatahi find good jobs. These days many local businesses are competing to attract them,” Ms McLennan said.
Barbara is also passionate about ensuring there are clear and accessible local pathways to work – training and opportunities to gain new skills across the board.
“There are many examples of great training opportunities created here in the district. For example, HEB recruited directly from the heavy machinery operator programme which Whakatōhea and Rudz Driver Training helped to run. To walk straight from training into a job is a great opportunity.
“Our productivity data also bucks the national trend – Marketview’s data for dollar spend shows significant week-on-week gains since February 2020, while national figures over the same period have dropped.
Mayor Riesterer said success is best measured through these outcomes for local people and businesses.
“With Covid-19 and its impact regionally, nationally and internationally, it can be easy to forget just how far we have come. Two years on, it’s good to take a breath and appreciate just how much things are already changing for the Ōpōtiki community as a result of this significant investment,” Mayor Riesterer said.