Westland Mayor thanks The AM Show for coverage after bridge collapse

News 11/04/2019

The Westland Mayor has thanked The AM Show for keeping the Franz Josef community in the public's mind after the vital Waiho Bridge was destroyed in storms.

The Waiho Bridge was destroyed in devastating storms last month, cutting off the Franz Josef township and threatening the local tourism industry.

It was meant to reopen on Friday but rising river levels caused by rain on Wednesday, as well as poor forecasted weather, means the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) have revised the expected opening until the weekend.

Metservice predicts thunderstorms for the region on Thursday, with up to 25mm/hr heavy rain and small tornadoes possible.

Teams have worked hard to keep this project on track

"...but last night's and today's rain and rapidly rising river levels have pushed this project beyond Friday," said Moira Whinham, NZTA's West Coast maintenance contract manager, on Wednesday.

Westland mayor Bruce Smith told The AM Show on Thursday that it is his bet that the bridge, which he is calling the "The AM Show Waiho Bridge", will be reopened on Saturday.

"The AM Show Waiho Bridge has been a challenge for us all. The military, all of the contractors, everyone is working," said Smith.

The only thing we couldn't control was a bit more rain, and we had a bit last night and it is still going at the present time.

"My bet [for the reopening date] is late Saturday."

He also knows that locals from Franz Josef are more than ready for things to get back to normal and thanked The AM Show for highlighting the issue.

"The sign's up there already with The AM Show Waiho Bridge opening, I am ready for the party, and so are the people of Franz," said Smith.

"There is talk of a long breakfast or a long lunch on the bridge. We would need NZTA approval and a few other things to do that, but the locals and Franz have put that up.

"When national television focusses on a place that has 441 residents, and it pushes the fact that the town has been put out of business without the bridge, it lifts the morale, it really lifts the morale."

So I want to thank you for that.

The storm in March also stripped an old landfill and left rubbish strewn through the native bush off the remote Fox River.

"Last night, we had quite a bit of rain. The Fox River has had a bit of flush out so any of the rubbish that was tied under trees and down further from the dump site would have been dislodged," said Smith.

So we expect when day break comes, and we start the inspection, we expect to see some change there.

But volunteers Newshub spoke to on Sunday said the clean-up is going to require hundreds more pairs of hands and could take months.

The AM Show / Newshub reporter Jamie Ensor