Though Minister and officials are yet to get a firm idea on how long State Highway One from Seddon to Cheviot may be closed, they are preparing for the worst.
There is a view in some quarters in the Beehive that it will be at least a year before the road re-opens.
While it is closed, trucks will have to make the slow trip through Murchison and over the Lewis Pass to get North Island freight to the South Island.
This will impact right across the South Island’s economy.
Brownlee is emphasising that it is early days yet but with trucking companies already advising customers of surcharges of 15% or more the impact of the road closure on the whole of the South Island may be huge.
Brownlee says the Government is looking at other options.
“You can’t just within a week get an alternative transport route from the north to the south, but we certainly are looking at a range of options that might come into play,” he told a media briefing yesterday.
Those include shipping, but there are problems there too.
POLITIK understands that there could be substantial surcharged added to freight if ferries were to travel from Wellington Lyttelton.
And because the journey is much longer than across the strait, shipping to Lyttelton would reduce the freight capacity on the North-South route.
The shipping companies would be more likely to know if they should charter extra ships once it becomes clear how long State Highway One will be closed.
The difficulties the Government is going to have opening the coastal highway are already becoming clear.
It was hoped to open the inland route from Culveden to Kaikoura today, but Brownlee says it will now be a longer period before it is opened.
“It is very damaged,” he said and is therefore only open currently to army convoys.
The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) is sending more aid convoys to deliver vital supplies to earthquake-stricken Kaikoura.
“Now that there is controlled access by road between Culverden and Kaikoura, we will continue to transport the majority of aid supplies using NZDF vehicles until commercial vehicles are allowed access,” Major General Tim Gall, the Commander Joint Forces New Zealand, said.
“We are still using helicopters to reach those remote communities, helping to ensure that they are being provided with the assistance that they need.”
There will be huge challenges removing the slips on the coastal road.
Officials are exploring options using remote controlled earthmoving machinery to enable the slips to be worked on without endangering workers in the case of aftershocks or further slips.
The Government has also received preliminary advice from the Ministry for the Environment supporting dumping the slip debris straight into the sea.
POLITIK understands the Ministry argues that slip debris naturally falls into the sea anyway and that the sea along the Kaikoura coast drops very quickly so that it is over four hundred metres deep 12 km offshore.
Brownlee also gave more hints about what the Government is proposing to with its amendments to the Civil Defence legislation.
That would appear to include another look at reducing the power of local Councils during emergencies and instead centralising much of the control of the emergency operation.
“We’ve got to look at it,” said Brownlee.
Otherwise, the Government appears to be moving quickly to introduce legislation to give itself powers to deal with the earthquake.
“The way in which we are proposing to make sure that everything we are doing is lawful will be announced after we have had discussions with other political parties and we should have something to indicate a timeline by the end of the week.”
And it is expected that there will also be more detail on what shape the coastal highway is in by the end of the week.
Ironically, though the human toll in this earthquake and even damage to buildings has ben light compared with Christchurch it still has the potential to have a massive economic impact — depending on how long that road is out of action.