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Published: 2008-10-30 00:00:00

Environment Waikato’s council today agreed to commit $350,000 to the Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust this year.

The trust has overseen the development of a 50km long predator-proof fence surrounding the 3,400ha Maungatautari mountain reserve, and the removal of introduced predatory pests such as possums, stoats and rats. This has helped native plants and animals flourish on Maungatautari.

At its monthly meeting in Hamilton today, the council considered whether to grant MEIT’s request for funding to meet this year’s immediate operational requirements.

During the debate, a number of councillors stated that restoring biodiversity was Environment Waikato’s core business under the Resource Management Act.

They said an independent report on MEIT stated the trust was an efficient and effective business.

Despite its successes and widespread community support, the trust is struggling financially. It had approached the Department of Conservation (DOC), Waipa District Council and Environment Waikato for an immediate injection of money to fund this year’s operations and to help it find future funding.

Since the project was launched, Environment Waikato’s total contribution to Maungatautari has been $2.4 million, Waipa District Council has given $1.5 million and the Government has given $5.6 million.

EW has been told the project is now considered to be at a critical stage: the fencing and pest control is complete, but the trust has to turn it from a capital investment project to a sustainable enterprise with estimated annual operating costs of $1.4 million.

After considerable debate, the council agreed to give $350,000 to the trust to fund this year’s operating shortfall. The funding would come from environmental fines received last year.

An earlier committee recommendation to provide an additional $50,000 to fund investigations into ways of funding the project over the longer term was withdrawn after the council was advised the work could be completed within existing budgets.

The question of whether EW would support the project in the long term will be considered during the council’s Long-Term Council Community Plan process.