The improvements are recommended in a DOC internal report which reviewed the circumstances surrounding the decision to remove the overhang in August 2019.
DOC Operations Director Mark Davies says, “Our people are often tasked with making complex decisions about matters concerning public safety, and in this case, we didn’t get it right.
“If we had made all the appropriate considerations, we would have endeavored to leave the overhang in place, and instead taken steps to manage the safety of visitors at the site differently.
“Depending on the level of risk deemed acceptable these measures could have included further signage, further barriers, or fully or partially closing the track.”
The report found although the decision to remove the was made for public safety reasons, it overlooked statutory requirements to protect significant geological features.
Mark Davies says although visitor access and safety is a vital consideration, DOC’s first priority is to protect New Zealand’s natural and cultural heritage.
“The review found DOC visitor risk management systems needed improved provisions for guiding staff appropriately through complex statutory considerations.”
The report made nine recommendations for improvements. These include updating systems to include triggers to seek further expert advice and consulting appropriately with iwi and stakeholders. Work is underway to implement the improvements.
The Truman Track is a 30-minute short walk in Paparoa National Park, just north of Punakaiki. It receives approximately 37,000 visitors a year.
Prior to the overhang being removed, in late July 2019, an estimated 3-4 tonne block of sandstone fell from the overhang and landed adjacent to the Truman Track.
The section of track was immediately closed, and geotechnical advice was obtained to assess the risk of further rockfall and identify possible mitigation.
The geotechnical assessment and subsequent report made two recommendations, either to remove the remaining sandstone overhang; or install a rockfall barrier.
DOC staff who manage the track sought further independent assessment which revealed water seepage through surface gravels and cracks in the underlying sandstone, and this confirmed that the rock overhang posed a significant public safety risk. DOC staff had further concerns that signage and barriers would be ineffective to ensure safety at this site.
If a better process had been in place, depending on the level of risk deemed acceptable, one of, or a combination of the following management actions would have been implemented:
- Closing the track at the top viewing platform and installing barriers.
- Using signs to encourage visitors to stay on the track and move through the hazard zone quickly.
- Closing the Truman Track permanently.
- Construct a fence to stop people standing under the overhang, while allowing continued access to the beach.