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Published: 2008-02-15 00:00:00

Environment Waikato’s policy and strategy committee has indicated its support for mangrove management in the Whangamata Harbour but has held back from defining the area of mangroves for removal to allow time for further discussions with stakeholders.

At its meeting in Hamilton yesterday, the committee received a report on plans to improve the health of the Whangamata Harbour, associated catchment management plans and four options for mangrove management.

The options, based on consultation with Whangamata ratepayers, are for the removal of 9ha, 16ha, 26ha and 61ha of mangroves.

Staff presented the pros and cons of the four options, canvassing the likely level of community support for each option, the potential environmental effects, flood mitigation benefits, legal and process implications, and costs.

Committee chairman Paula Southgate said it was proving to be extremely challenging to balance the community’s wishes with environmental and funding concerns.

“It will be useful to allow time for further discussions to take place – the larger the area of mangroves to be removed, the more likely the application for consent will be challenged in the Environment Court, lengthening the process and driving up costs to the ratepayer,” she said.

The committee heard that the 9ha option would offer some environmental benefits such as protecting seagrass, maintaining saltmarsh habitat and preventing some sedimentation. It might also gain the support of some other stakeholders, but would not go far enough for many Whangamata ratepayers.

According to technical reports, the proposed removal of 9ha could be achieved with effects likely to be deemed less than minor under the Resource Management Act, subject to proper monitoring and staged removal.

The 16ha option offers environmental benefits as well as some flood mitigation in the Moanaanuanu estuary. It may be less likely, however, to gain support from stakeholder groups.

Options 3 and 4 to remove 26ha and 61ha increase the risk of adverse environmental effects but go further to meeting some ratepayers and residents preferred level of mangrove management. These options would also involve the removal of mangroves for amenity purposes such as recreation and views, activities at present not undertaken by Environment Waikato.

Around 20 per cent of Whangamata ratepayers provided feedback on the draft harbour plan, the catchment plan and mangrove options. Sixty eight per cent of respondents, or 585 of Whangamata’s 4300 ratepayers, supported the removal of the maximum area of mangroves and indicated they were prepared to pay additional rates for the work. This option is also preferred by the Whangamata Community Board.

Staff reported, however, that this option would probably be challenged through the Environment Court by those groups concerned about the potential adverse environmental effects.

In addition, any proposal to apply to remove more than 16ha would trigger a special consultation process under the Local Government Act because the proposed works represent a significant new activity for the regional council. Regional councils are required to consult with all territorial authorities in the region and obtain the approval of the Minister of Local Government before they undertake activities that they have not previously performed.

The council has never before undertaken works and services in the Coastal Marine Area (CMA) for purposes of amenity, rather than ecological or river management purposes.

While Cr Southgate supports the removal of smaller areas of mangroves, she was concerned the council should be cautious about setting a precedent that might invite a range of other amenity-related demands for works and services in the CMA, such as the construction of sea walls or walkways, boat ramps and jetties.

Councillors acknowledged the wide range of community viewpoints on the issue, from those who want mangroves protected completely to those who want wholesale removal of the plants.

They broadly endorsed the need to manage mangroves but deferred a decision until later this month on which mangrove management option or options it would put forward to the community in Environment Waikato’s 2008/09 Draft Annual Plan.

They agreed that before the council made a decision on the area of mangroves to be removed, chairman Peter Buckley and Thames-Coromandel constituency representative Simon Friar would hold further talks with community groups and stakeholders in a bid to try to reach a consensus on the way forward.

The committee also asked for information on the costs and benefits of the resource consent application being applied for by organisations or agencies other than Environment Waikato.

Depending on the council’s final decision, Environment Waikato will prepare and apply for a resource consent to remove the agreed area of mangroves after the 2008/09 Annual Plan has been adopted in June 2008.

The council estimates the costs of consultation and associated activities related to mangroves in Whangamata will amount to approximately $250,000 this financial year.

Prior to any discussion about the Whangamata mangrove issue, Cr Simon Friar, who has in the past expressed strong views about mangrove removal, declared a potential conflict of interest.

After considering advice from the Auditor-General and the council’s own legal team, councillors debated the issue and concluded Cr Friar had an open mind on the matter and would act in the interests of the wider region.