No iwi representation on Edgecumbe's flood review panel

updated By Talisa Kupenga

The three-piece independent panel responsible for the review into last month’s flood of Edgecumbe will be void of iwi representation. Panel Chair Sir Michael Cullen says this is due to a conflict of interest.

The Rangitāiki River Forum is the reason there will be no iwi representation on the panel responsible for reviewing the infrastructure and circumstances surrounding the Edgecumbe flood.

Independent Review Panel chairman Sir Michael Cullen says, “If anybody from the river forum was on the panel they’re immediately conflicted because being a committee of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council (BOPRC), we are actually reviewing the actions of the regional council and the recommendations will be to the council. But nevertheless, I am going to make sure we get very very strong input from iwi."

Edgecumbe is in Ngāti Awa territory. The iwi is one of five represented on the river forum, co-governed alongside regional councils, because of their links to the Rangitāiki river. Sir Cullen will engage with iwi separately.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council chairman Doug Leeder says, "I appreciate that iwi are very concerned with the mauri (life essence) of the river and want to have input directly.

“They do have a legislative right to be heard but I tend to agree with Sir Michael in these circumstances. The forum in which they need to be heard doesn’t necessary have to be on the panel.”

Two technical experts will work alongside Sir Michael; a water resources engineer and a geotechnical engineer. The review will cover the operation of the Rangitāiki River Scheme assets including its design, engineering, maintenance, management and how BOPRC operated in the lead-up to and in response to the breach.

It will not extend to the Civil Defence response run by Whakatane District Council or the consent process Trustpower went through to be able to operate the Matahina Dam.

Mr Leeder says the panel has the ability to look at the Rangitāiki river back to its inception in the 1960s.

"Since that time there have been significant adverse events including the 1987 earthquake and the major flood in 2004. He’s got the ability to go back and look at reports that deal with this system and the way it was operating and they can comment on whether the response has been adequate or not.”

But while flood waters have receded, Edgecumbe residents still harbour unanswered questions; 440 of which they have compiled into a formal report alongside statements they plan to present soon.

Resident Kahu Walker says, “I would like to think that there’s an opportunity to get some answers and some truth told. The community have got a long way to heal.

“Some lessons learnt [from this event] will never be repeated again. Certainly in my lifetime I never want to see those things ever happen again.”

A spokesperson for Te Runanga o Ngāti Awa says the iwi supports the technical review and the wider engagement that will include iwi groups and community.

Sir Michael will hold community drop-in sessions throughout the month starting June 3. The panel’s recommendations are expected to be presented to BOP regional council come July.