New ghost town warning as Franz waits for flood funds

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The West Coast is on the verge of gaining at least one new ghost town unless the government comes through with promised life-support for Franz Josef Glacier.

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Franz Josef, pictured in 2018. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

That warning comes today from West Coast Regional Council chairman Allan Birchfield, as business owners in the glacier town survey deserted streets, and cafes and motels empty of international tourists.

“I was down there last week for a funeral – but the gloom was over the whole area; in Franz and Fox the businesses are either closed or partly open. It was terrible,” Birchfield said.

Contractors were “ready and waiting” to start work on the $24 million flood protection project approved by the government last year for Franz Josef as part of the Covid-19 economic stimulus package, he said.

But the glacier town hurting most from the collapse of international tourism caused by the pandemic was still waiting for the relief that could save it.

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Contracts for the region’s other “shovel-ready” flood projects in Greymouth, Hokitika and Westport had all come through but the regional council was still waiting for sign-off on the Franz Josef documents, he said.

“We still don’t know when that’s coming through but it is desperate down there, they really need the money to survive. It’s just what they need to hold the line.”

The planned flood protection project would create about 60 jobs in the township over two years as contractors built new stopbanks and replaced the bridge over the Waiho (Waiau) River.

Regional council operations manager Randal Beal said the Franz Josef contract was not as straightforward as the smaller projects in Greymouth, Hokitika and Westport.

“So the change in government [sic] and ministerial roles and the Christmas break have all led to delays.”

Local Democracy Reporting has contacted West Coast-Tasman MP and Minister for Rural Communities, Damien O’Connor, to ask when the Government might come through with the funds.

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