When a natural disaster strikes and a state highway is closed, the impact on local communities can be severe, particularly if that highway is the only direct link between regions.
This is exactly what happened in September when a rain storm closed State Highway 6 through Haast Pass for nine days and has resulted in ongoing closures.
The only direct link between the West Coast and North Otago, SH6 is critical in supporting the tourism industry, on which the economic prosperity of both regions relies.
With State Highway 6 closed, the detour is 937km or almost 11 hours driving back up the Coast, other Arthur’s Pass and down through the Mackenzie Country to Wanaka. For tour operators this has a significant impact on driver hours, schedules and the overall experience for their passengers.
For local businesses, it means lost revenue with tours being re-directed and freedom travellers avoiding the area because of confusion about whether the road is closed or not - all a reality of what happened with the slip at Diana Falls in the Haast Pass.
The West Coast - by the nature of its environment - is prone to slips, washouts and temporary road closures. However, the Diana Falls slip has caused the greatest community impact in recent years.
Keeping everyone well-informed with what is happening at the site and working closely on ways to improve communications, extend opening hours and limit disruptions has been important.
Soon after the event, community and tourism industry meetings were held throughout the West Coast and at Makarora and Wanaka. These were valuable in building a better understanding between ourselves and the community about what was happening at the site, dispelling myths circulating in the local communities and establishing a platform to get our messages out to the wider community.
With more than 200 individuals, businesses, associations and media on our database, we are now directly reaching more than 1200 stakeholders. Not only are we keeping everyone better informed but our stakeholders are critical in helping us to manage the site to keep everyone moving and both economies strong.
This type of community partnership means we better understand our customer needs and can work together to find solutions that enable our network, even after a disaster, to be as effective and efficient as possible while work continues to manage the slip.
The highway remains closed at the Diana Falls slip overnight from 7pm to 8am while we remove rocks and debris from the slip that is at risk of falling down. These closures will remain until permanent slip protection works can be installed from April/May next year.
To find out more about this project visit the website (external link) .