Manuherikia River driving safety worry

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An Alexandra resident is concerned about the safety of swimmers in the Manuherikia River, after a four-wheel-drive was bogged in the water recently.

Alexandra Holiday Park owner Janice Graham, who has lived in the area for 14 years, said people drove four-wheel-drive vehicles along the banks of the river behind the park every summer.

“It’s a regular thing.

“As soon as the river gets low they come through and get stuck.”

She said drivers often asked the holiday park for assistance, but her biggest concern was the people who swam in the river in the warm weather.

Four-wheel-driving along the river posed a safety risk, she said.

“The problem is you get kids swimming.

“Coming in at Christmas time is such a big risk – there’s so many people down there.”

The area is managed by Land Information New Zealand.

Linz crown property deputy chief executive Jerome Sheppard said the organisation would be concerned about any activities that threatened native wildlife and would consult with the Department of Conservation before considering any applications for four-wheel-driving within riverbeds.

“We have not received any applications for this activity at this location.”

He said there was “no issue” with people using Crown land to access popular spots such as rivers and swimming holes, unless there were specific reasons not to, such as public safety.

“However, we do not condone any irresponsible or unsafe behaviour on our land, and recommend that people contact police in the first instance if there are concerns about this.”

If there was a persistent issue with people creating a nuisance or safety risk then Linz would take action, which could include a trespass notice.

“Another option might be to limit public or vehicle access to better ensure safety.

“However, this would be a shame, given that the activities of a few irresponsible individuals are creating a hazard and spoiling access for everyone else.”

Otago Regional Council manager resource science Dean Olsen said there were rules about disturbing riverbeds and the ORC would assess any incident report where damage might have been caused.

“Impacts from driving along riverbeds include disturbance of nesting river birds (some of which are threatened), destruction of birds’ nests, eggs and chicks, compaction of the river bed, which damages the habitat of native fish or other aquatic life, and it can stir up sediment from the riverbed, discolouring water and causing siltation.”

He said people mostly stuck to low speeds when driving on riverbeds, meaning the risk to public safely was low.

“Of course with that said, the level of safety in any circumstance would be highly dependent on the situation and is hard to assume.”