Skyline confirms their construction work caused recent storm damage

by Lauren Pattemore - Oct 05, 2023

Skyline Enterprises has said they are "dismayed and very sorry" after a Crux investigation traced rock and shingle that caused extensive damage to Reavers Lane properties to the gondola operators' construction work.

The admission and apology follows questions from Crux about whether piles of earth excavated for new facilities at Skyline's Queenstown gondola could have affected debris flows that reached into the urban neighbourhood overnight on September 21, forcing evacuations.

The view from the top of the Skyline gondola, showing cut rock and shingle that has been piled on the edge of a steep slope.

Crux first put the question to Skyline two days ago, and this evening the operator has issued a statement in response confirming fill removed to make way for its new restaurant headed down the hill during the storm.

"We were dismayed and are very sorry," the statement from Skyline says. 

"Our immediate priority is working with the council, our contractors and specialist advisors to stabilise the area and then remove the remaining fill...and ensure the area is safe."

Last week the Queenstown Lakes District Council had a geotechnical engineer in the Reavers Lane area, working to determine the source of the debris flow.

Initial results were inconclusive, and Crux has asked the council for a copy of the engineer's report.

Prior to Skyline's apology, district mayor Glyn Lewers told Crux on Tuesday afternoon the material that came down during the weather event “certainly is not what you’d expect from a riverbed”.

There was plenty of gravel and shingle among it, and not much mud and silt, he said. 

Cars parked in Reavers Lane were swamped by stones and debris, Friday, September 22 (Image: Jasper Thompson).

On Tuesday the mayor pushed back at the suggestion from Crux Skyline's construction waste could have contributed to debris flows during the storm, saying "No, I don't think so, there's no way", assuming it was impossible because from his knowledge Skyline is in a completely different catchment.

However, the council's view has since shifted.

Yesterday (Wednesday, October 5) the QLDC told Crux it is now following a number of lines of enquiry to understand how the event and its effects unfolded – including working with the tourism giant.

The view from atop the Skyline gondola, looking east, down the hill towards Gorge Road, shows an obvious flow of shingle and rock beginning at construction stockpiles.

QLDC’s planning and development manager Dave Wallace said yesterday the council is actively working with Skyline and council experts on the issue.

"As work is ongoing, we cannot give definitive responses to your specific queries at this time. Given the recency of the information, council is responding by taking all appropriate steps to follow up."

Crux has also conducted its own investigations, hiking up the riverbed yesterday and checking out a gravel pile at Skyline Gondola’s top station, near the edge of a steep slope.

Atop the gondola, there was evidence a large amount of rock and gravel had fallen down the eastern slope, taking out a section of temporary fencing and travelling high enough to rip the bark off tree trunks on its way.

The area at the top of the Skyline gondola, where excavated rock and shingle had been piled, in relation to Reavers Lane.

The gravel pile is located in a different spot from where Skyline slash swept down into Queenstown cemetery. Instead, it’s on the Reavers Lane side of the site, at the edge of the Skyline Gondola’s operations, near the base of the luge track, but tucked slightly away from tourist activity.

The gravel pile is mostly fenced off from the public, and the slope and rocks below are not visible from the public pathway.

Skyline says its own inquiries into the event continue and it "will co-operate fully with any QLDC investigation".

"No further comment will be made while this process is ongoing."

Reavers Lane sits below an already established high-risk alluvial fan, and the debris flow on the day the Queenstown state of emergency was declared covered cars and entered homes, resulting in 12 buildings being either red or yellow stickered by the council in the immediate aftermath of the event.

Mayor Lewers says since the rainstorm the council has upped its monitoring of a culvert close to Reavers Lane that was blocked during the weather event, forcing water and debris to flow overland rather than into stormwater pipes.

The debris flow at the top of the Skyline gondola.

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