Rainbow Ski Area bosses are weighing up if opening this year will be possible after COVID-19 saw costs spiral.
The future of this winter’s season is reliant on community support.
And a one off $25 ‘Covid Tracing Fee’, to help cover coronavirus associated costs at the ski field, was scrapped yesterday.
The announcement of the fee was widely panned by commenters online but Rainbow Ski Area committee chair Mark Unwin says they’re on track to get the numbers needed to open.
“There are added costs we have to bear and we’re passing that on,” Mark told Marlborough Media last week.
But a post on social media last night saw Rainbow bosses ditch the controversial charge.
“We no longer have to employ staff for the bottom of the hill, put in connectivity and build the shed in the carpark,” it says.
Those who have already paid the fee will be refunded.
“We still need to be prepared in case we have to move back up the levels but at least we have the systems in place, ready, if we do,” he says.
The access road to the popular Nelson Lakes ski area was recently upgraded at the clubs’ expense – and Mark says skiers were subsidising other mountain users who use the road.
The planned ‘Covid Tracing fee’ was originally touted to cover costs of contact tracing, cleaning and to pay for the road upgrade.
“We’ve spent a lot of money on the road, we have increased costs and changed the ticketing system,” Mark says.
“It’s fairer for everyone using the mountain.
“No one wants to see extra fees but it’s all going to the mountain.”
“We’re a club field – we don’t have shareholder backing and we can’t take financial risk,” he says.
A flurry of posts on Facebook outlining the changes and increased fees attracted scores of negative comments with hopeful mountain-users raising questions about the affordability of visiting the local ski field.
“Is that per person? Not a bad price if you visit a lot in the season, will make it unaffordable for families who can only manage to go once in the season,” one commenter wrote.
Another posted: “What happened to making tourism activities cheaper for kiwis?”
Marks says they have put packages in place for non-skiers and ski rentals to lessen the burden on families and make it more affordable.
“We’d like to be able to do more, but it costs a lot of money to run the field,” he says.
“The alternative is to shut completely and see what happens next season – that just doesn’t seem like the right thing to do.”
Tickets are only available online and staffing levels have been slashed in a bid to stay a step ahead should the country be forced into a higher alert level.
Multi-day, half day and learners area only tickets have been scrapped to streamline administration and make contact tracing easier.
The field will also close two days a week to give the smaller crew an opportunity to rest.
“We normally have around 40 staff, this year we’re running about 20,” Mark says.
Usually about a third of staff are from overseas, but with borders closed that was not an option.
“We could get staff from New Zealand if we had to, but [a smaller staff] allows us to scale up and down if we need to.
“If everything changed and we had to shut down there’s less financial risk.”
Mark says the club has about 72 days to make money to pay for facilities.
The committee is also looking at opening over the summer months for tramping, mountain biking and other activities.
“It would be good to spread the cost over a longer period,” Mark says.
Staff are aiming to open the mountain on Friday 24 July provided enough passes are sold with staff saying they are about 90 per cent there.
With snow forecast Mark says they’re on track to open.
“Lots of people love the mountain. We’re hopeful that we will get the support.”
Work is once more underway on the new Ōpaoa River Bridge. The crew has been back on site since the start of level 3
While the shutdown and other effects of Covid-19 will have an impact on the completion dates for Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency projects, it’s still too early to say what the impact may be for the Ōpaoa River Bridge.
The next step is preparing to introduce some traffic onto the new bridge so the team can continue with “tie-in” work – connecting the existing road with the new bridge.
Marlborough’s fledgling marijuana industry could inject millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs into the region in its first year.
Bosses at Medical cannabis firm Puro have revealed growing the crop could bring in about $60 million dollars in the next two years.
It could also create more than 300 jobs once established, with the first intake set to start in October.
Puro managing director Tim Aldridge says the business will also create other jobs as it gets underway.
“Puro has the capacity to create in excess of 300 jobs once our long-term facilities are up and running, most of these will be at Kaikoura site.
“On top of this are the indirect jobs and construction employment that our infrastructure and development project will create,” he says.
Puro ran a successful crowd-funding campaign last year, raising $4million to establish the medicinal cannabis operation.
The company intends to grow medicinal cannabis in greenhouses in the Waihopai Valley and high-CBD (cannabidiol) hemp in Kekerengu, on the coast between Blenheim and Kaikōura.
“We estimate that over 95 per cent of our total product will contain no THC, 0.3 per cent or lower,” Tim says.
THC is the psychoactive compound of cannabis that is used to create a high.
“Our focus is towards CDB and other medically beneficial cannabinoids.”
The large, outdoor facility in Kaikoura is where most of our new jobs will be created, Tim says.
“Here we will have cultivation technicians that will work under supervision in roles based around plant sowing, harvesting, pruning and pest management.
“There will be supervisors overseeing these roles and specialists to work alongside them – plant pathologists, compost experts etc.
“These roles will be most suited for horticultural trained postgraduate students, or others with similar qualification and commercial experience,” he says.
The Kaikoura processing area will also have technicians for bucking, trimming, milling, and drying of the hemp flower.
“Following the processing, we will have roles for packaging and distribution to third party manufacturers.
“Our outdoor cultivation will come online in September with some workforce required prior to planting.
There will be multiple roles in the laboratory, research and cultivation divisions including cannabis horticulture, process management, compliance and packaging created at the indoor Waihopai glasshouses.
“We are ready to start planning as soon as our commercial cultivation license is received from the Ministry of Health, which is currently pending.”
“This is a multi-million-dollar economic boost for Marlborough and Kaikoura and our success will encourage other local businesses to entire this exciting and profitable market.”
Kaikoura MP Stuart Smith is backing the business, saying it brings with it the chance for Marlborough to make its mark on the world stage as a cannabis producer.
“I understand the value in utilising our precious farmland for economic purposes, with the goal to better both the local and national community,” he says.
“…there is now an opportunity to bring a new land-based industry to Marlborough with the potential to cement Marlborough’s place on the world stage as a premium producer of medical cannabis products.”
Grape growers’ dependence on overseas workers to prune more than 27,000 hectares of grape vines has been jeopardised by the coronavirus pandemic.
The massive job needs about 2800 Pacific Island workers, brought in under the government’s Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme.
But wine bosses are optimistic there are enough RSE workers already in the country to complete the vital horticulture work.
A call has also gone out to Kiwis looking for work.
Wine Marlborough chief executive Marcus Pickens says experienced pruners are not allowed in the country under lockdown laws.
Despite a shortage of experienced workers in the country, pruning will still go-ahead, using summer staff already here.
“There will be a productivity difference,” he says.
“There will be an experience gap.”
Marcus says the usual winter work force will, at this stage, remain in their home country as tight border restrictions prevents movement between countries.
However, the summer workforce is still here.
“We’re giving them the opportunity for more work.”
Pruning 27,000 hectares of grape vines usually takes about four months, Marcus says.
“We were forecasting a large deficit [of workers], but now we’re a lot more optimistic.
“RSE workers are still going to be the core of the workforce.
But they won’t be coming in from overseas.
He says the new workers will require a large degree of training required to get them up to speed.
“We’ve had a steady amount of wins along the way,” Marcus says.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment recently extended some RSE workers visas until the end of September.
“The ability for people to stay on and work has been clarified,” Marcus says.
“We weren’t certain people could move between regions.”
“Hawkes Bay may have a group of people picking apples – some of the workers will move to Marlborough.
“We’ve had confirmation that that can still happen.
“We have safe, low-risk travel plans approved by MBIE.”
The Bragato Research Institute recently released information on pruning options during a potential labour shortage which includes a one-season pruning alternative and a fact sheet on “mothballing” vineyards.
Marcus says it will be a business-by-business choice.
“It’s a rather severe measure and I don’t think it will be widely adopted,” he says.
Alternatives to pruning could include realigning vineyards, widening rows or replanting.
“There are a number of things people could do,” Marcus says.
“Individual businesses will have to make those decisions.”
He says another question is what will happen when border restrictions are eased.
“When people can go home, will they?
“Will people be able to come?”
He says RSE workers will remain the “core” of the vineyard workforce, but there is plenty of work for Kiwis, too.
“We’re continually calling out for Kiwis to join in the industry,” he says.
“We need to show there are a lot of careers in the wine industry.”
A former Blenheim man has been arrested after being caught on a yacht allegedly hauling hundreds of kilos of methamphetamines.
Mark Bishell, 33, was taken into custody by police on Saturday following a tip off from the New Caledonian authorities last week.
Bishell was on board the sailboat La Fayette when police uncovered more than 1000 plastic wrapped packages believed to be methamphetamine.
An Australian Federal Police spokesman says forensic experts are now carrying out tests on the drugs and the yacht.
British-South African Sebastian Seve Barnard, 34, has also been arrested.
“Specialist forensic officers are continuing to deconstruct the boat and examine the contents, which is believed to contain methamphetamine.
“Further forensic testing will be undertaken to determine the exact weight and purity of the seized substances,” a spokesman says.
Bishell, a former deckhand and fisherman, was rescued from near White’s Bay in 2011 after falling ill onboard a fishing boat with a serious bowel infection.
He was winched to safety amid high winds by the Westpac Rescue Helicopter crew.
The former Marlborough Boys’ College student was a keen rower and runner.
The two men were taken to Surry Hills Police Station and charged with importing a commercial quantity of border-controlled drugs.
Police say a “vessel of interest” travelled from Mexico to New Caledonia to meet the yacht La Fayette and load it with drugs.
Both Bishell and Barnard were refused bail after appearing before Parramatta Bail Court.
The maximum penalty for the offence is life imprisonment.
The spokesman says the investigation, codenamed Operation ROMANI, has been an ongoing operation with the UK’s National Crime Agency and its office in Canberra looking into British Organised Crime groups targeting Australia.
The multi-agency investigation included the Australian Federal Police (AFP), New South Wales Police Force (NSWPF) and Australian Border Force (ABF), collaborating with agencies from the United Kingdom and New Caledonia.
Volunteer shoppers have mobilised in Marlborough in a bid to provide help for the elderly and infirm.
A shopping and delivery service for over 65’s, the medically vulnerable and healthcare workers, staffed by Student Volunteer Army volunteers, launched in the region today.
Student Volunteer Army lead picker Alison Faulls says they’ve had a great response from the community.
“We currently have 9 fully registered volunteers from a range of backgrounds, with the interview process ongoing,” Alison says.
Orders are placed online through the SVA website, then volunteers in full PPE pick the groceries at New World, which opens early especially for the volunteers, before delivering them to the door.
Consideration is given to those who are otherwise vulnerable on a case by case basis.
It is a completely contact-free process.
“We have to follow all the procedures staff at New World do,” Alison says.
Alison, a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment policy advisor, communicates with volunteers and the supermarket to ensure orders are picked up and meet the requirements of their customers.
“I’m the first point of contact for ensuring everything goes to plan,” she says.
Founded as a response to the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes the Student Volunteer Army work to provide community-based solutions and connection.
“I was drawn to the sense of community and the projects SVA ran, and volunteered with them from 2012 through to 2016,” Alison says.
Studying a Bachelor of Science and Master of Engineering Management at University of Canterbury, Alison served as an SVA executive for her final two years and says she’s excited to be a part of the initiative in Marlborough.
“We’ve had some great buy in from the high schools here and I’ve heard the head students have been encouraging others to get involved.”
Founder Sam Johnson says this is humanity at its best.
“We have been astounded with the response to what we are doing, from those willing to join the SVA as volunteers, the individuals in the community that require our service, and also the general public sentiment who recognise the support we are providing for the most vulnerable.
The service will continue for as long as is required.
SVA Grocery orders can be placed at www.shop.sva.org.nz and volunteers can register to help at www.sva.org.nz.