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Seconds from death: This mature poplar fell across Speargrass Flat Rd earlier this month, ripping a bike from the back of a vehicle it struck as it came down

By TRACEY ROXBURGH

Queenstown’s council will intermittently close part of Speargrass Flat Road when winds above 40 kilometres an hour are forecast.

The move comes after a mature poplar failed earlier this month, coming within a split second of crushing a passing car.

About 2.45pm on December 5, the Queenstowner, who asked not to be named, was driving along the road, between Domain Rd and Lower Shotover Rd.

Nearing the intersection with the latter, the driver heard a noise, and looked in their rear view mirror to see a bike, secured to the back of their vehicle, flying into the air.

After stopping to investigate the damage, the driver says the poplar first impacted the vehicle’s roof, near the front windscreen, and scraped along it before collecting the bike at the back.

In September, 2009, Queenstowner Russell Liggett, 57, died when a 110-year-old poplar tree, with significantly advanced decay, fell and crushed the cab of his ute while he was driving along Lower Shotover Rd.

Subsequently, about 66 poplars — all between 80 and 120 years old — were felled.

Council property and infrastructure boss Peter Hansby tells Mountain Scene this week there are about 340 poplars along the full length of Speargrass Flat Rd, but the council doesn’t know how old they are.

They were last physically inspected in March.

Hansby says the poplar most likely failed due to ‘‘basal decay, which can result in a tree becoming structurally compromised’’, but he’s not aware of any council work which might have potentially undermined them in the intervening period.

City Hall’s arborist has since completed an initial inspection of the trees on the section of Speargrass Flat Rd between Domain and Lower Shotover Rds, and ‘‘identified other trees that were possibly of concern, but didn’t pose an immediate risk’’.

The arborist’s recommended a full independent assessment of the trees, but that can’t be done till early next month.

Hansby says that’ll reveal how many might need to get the chop — that could result in a ‘‘reprioritisation’’ of an existing felling programme, or a request for more money for the budget.

While there are no signs alerting passers-by of the potential risk on the road, Hansby says the community’s safety is ‘‘the highest priority’’.

‘‘As such we will be taking a cautious approach between now and the next round of tree inspections.

‘‘Speargrass Flat Rd, between Domain Rd and Lower Shotover Rd, will be subject to ongoing, temporary road closures when winds are forecast above 40kmh.

‘‘The road will reopen when the winds die down again.

‘‘Resident access will be available at all times.’’

tracey.roxburgh@scene.co.nz