Forest owners want the roads they've paid for

25 May 2011

Forest owners have offered to take part in a local body workshop being held next month to discuss the impact of logging trucks on roads in the Manawatu, Wanganui and Taranaki districts.

The workshop is being organised by the Wanganui District Council following the publication of a report by Opus Consultants on the impact of forest harvesting on roads in the district. The report estimates that the council faces a $50 million roading bill over the next two decades as 15,000 hectares of forest are harvested.

Board chairman Alan Taylor told the Wanganui Chronicle that invitations had been sent to the South Taranaki, Stratford, Rangitikei and Ruapehu District Councils, Taranaki and Horizons Regional Councils, Local Government New Zealand and the Ministry of Forestry.

Forest Owners Association transport committee chair Brian Pritchard says his association has been trying for many years to work with district councils nationwide in the planning and funding of roads that service forestry.

“The potential increase in harvests from forests planted in the 1990s is likely to put pressure on rural roads. But forest owners have been – and still are – paying rates for those roads to be developed and maintained, so they expect them to be available for logging trucks when their forests are harvested.”

Mr Pritchard says the roading rates paid by individual forest owners can be substantial.

“A typical commercial forest owner paying say, $50,000 in rates a year for 25 years will, allowing for 5 per cent compound interest, make a contribution toward local roading of $2.66 million.

“It is not unusual for councils to siphon off a lot this money for other purposes, leaving roads in a precarious state.”

For nearly 20 years forest owners have been lobbying Local Government New Zealand and the major political parties to make councils accountable for the rates they levy for roading.      

“There is nothing in law that requires councils to actually use the share of rates earmarked for roads for the purpose intended. Nor do the formulas used to set rates have to be fair to those who pay the rates.”

Although these lobbying efforts have yet to bear fruit, forest owners have had some notable successes working with councils and communities at a local level.

Innovative solutions have included the scheduling of movements of logging trucks, milk tankers and stock trucks on narrow winding roads. In some districts, school bus drivers have been given radio telephones so they can talk to drivers of heavy vehicles using the same road.

“The Frame Report (2003) strongly recommended more dialogue and co-operation between forest owners and councils. In the absence of dialogue there is a tendency for councils to construct over-engineered roads at the ratepayer’s expense,” Mr Pritchard says.

“We are very keen to work with councils in the region and have asked to take part in the workshop to be held later this month. Many forests have major private roading networks, so we also have a lot of technical expertise we can offer.”

He says the Wanganui District Council has not yet provided forest owners with a copy of the Opus report.

“However, its findings as reported in the media, conflict with other authoritative studies. In particular, the claim that logging trucks have 50 to 60 times more impact on rural roads than the vehicles associated with agriculture, is clearly nonsense.

“A Waikato District Council study found that when you measure truck movements per hectare per year, beef farms and forestry make similar use of roads. Dairy farms and pipfruit orchards make at least twice as much use as forestry.

“Only extensive sheep and beef farms make less use of roads than forestry on a per hectare basis. But many of them have forestry blocks of their own.

”The difference between agriculture and forestry is that forestry makes few demands on rural roads for about 30 years while the trees are growing. Then there is a short period of intense use.

“While this may be seen to result in road damage, this is invariably because of a lack of roading investment and maintenance over a prolonged period. There is nothing about a logging truck that causes more damage to a road than say a milk tanker or fertiliser truck. They all have similar axle weights and travel at similar speeds.”


For more information, please ring Brian Pritchard, Tel 021 900 201 or Glen Mackie, FOA senior policy analyst, Tel 0274 450 116