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An aerial map image of the Opihi Gorge

by Greta Yeoman

The replacement walkway bridge over the Opihi Gorge is set to be installed in the next few months, after building consent was granted.

Fairlie Lions president Dermott O’Sullivan, whose group is leading the project, said the team hoped to get the bridge built and put in place in the next few months, after building consent was granted earlier this month.

The old bridge was washed away by a flood in 1995, cutting off loop access on the Mackenzie walkway.

Mr O’Sullivan described the granting of the building consent as a “big milestone” in the progress of the project, which had been in the works for several years.

The Lions have worked on various parts of the Fairlie Walkway for several years and the next step was re-establishing the track through the gorge linking Opihi Gorge Rd to Raincliff, via the bridge, Mr O’Sullivan said.

He was hoping the club would be able to get the New Zealand army to bring in one of its helicopters to lift the bridge into place, as there were no other helicopters in South Canterbury big enough to lift the 1.2 tonne structure.

“If we can pull that off with the army . . . it will be a big saving.”

If the Lions could not get support from the army to move the 15m long bridge into place, they would have to split it in two and get another helicopter to fly it in. This would result in more cost and delay the opening, he said.

Mr O’Sullivan said the club was grateful for the wider Mackenzie community support for the project.

The landowners on both sides of the bridge were supporting the project and the Guiney family on the northern side had even offered to pay for the stairwell access to the bridge.

Without the community support – including the Fairlie Community Board paying the building consent fees – the bridge project would probably cost more than $20,000 but the cost had worked out significantly less because of all the offers of financial assistance from those in the area, Mr O’Sullivan said.

His fellow Lions from Pleasant Point were also pitching in by helping to clear and open up the track on the Raincliff side.

Due to people being less busy during the winter months, he hoped people would have more time to help get the track up to scratch before the bridge was installed, which could be in a few months’ time.

“It’ll be pretty special when we get there.”