Councils double-dip for forest roading

17 Dec 2003

An independent report lends weight to claims by forest owners that they are being unfairly singled out by district councils to pay for roading upgrades.

The report by consultants Frame Group, quotes a Waikato Regional Council study which shows that dairy farms generate twice as many truck movements per hectare a year as beef farms and forestry. Sheep farms make the least demand on roading.

The NZ Forest Owners Association commissioned the report because of the conditions local bodies are attaching to resource consents for log harvesting. In many cases, local bodies have required forest owners to contribute large sums toward the costs of road upgrades, even though forest harvesting is a permitted land use under the Resource Management Act.

Association chief executive Rob McLagan says it is of great concern that many councils have spent rates collected from forest owners on other priorities.

"There is too much double-dipping going on. Councils should regard the rates collected while a forest is growing as an advance payment towards the roading services which will be needed only when logs are harvested.

"Over the 30-year productive life of a forest, forest makes little impact on the roading network, and less demand on council services, while still contributing a substantial amount in rating."

Mr McLagan says councils that cannot plan and budget to maintain their roads should follow the lead of small local bodies like the Banks Peninsula District Council and actively seek to amalgamate with a larger neighbour.

"There are far too many small local authorities which struggle to build a viable rating base and the necessary level of expertise."

He also says local bodies need to be willing to "think outside the square", when coming up with solutions.

"High-spec road engineering is not always the answer. In fact it is often unnecessary and excessively expensive."

The report says forest-owners and territorial local authorities (TLAs) need to get together as early as possible to plan future roading needs.

It also makes a number of creative suggestions for reducing the need for major roading upgrades which are often required for only a relatively short log harvest period.

The report says more constructive and cost-effective solutions, that will benefit the whole community, need to be negotiated between councils and forest owners.

Some relatively simple strategies, such as laying slightly stronger pavement when roads are constructed or have a major overhaul, can cut the lifetime maintenance costs, the report says.

When communities work together, there are traffic management options like scheduling logging trucks to avoid 'rush hours' that occur before and after school. More use can be made of the radio communications that most logging trucks are equipped with. In one example highlighted in the report, the school bus was given its own radio so it could join the communication about what vehicle was where on a narrow road.

Many of these approaches will benefit the wider community, and other rural road users like milk tankers.

Because the roading demands of logging trucks are usually concentrated at one time, and to some extent are manageable by time and weather, there is no need to "over-design" solutions, the report says.

It may cost very little more to provide a suitable road pavement suitable for timber harvesting than it does to provide a properly designed payment for non-forestry needs.

The report details a number of other alternate strategies, from adjustment of axle loading to alteration of tyre pressure through CPI or central inflation, that could make a major difference to road wear if implemented.