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Published: 2007-12-19 00:00:00

Environment Waikato is closer to defining the area of mangroves that will be managed in Whangamata Harbour following a recent survey of ratepayers.

Thames Coromandel councillor Simon Friar said he was looking forward to seeing action on the mangrove issue.

“Right now council staff are looking at ways of dealing with the mangroves without chalking up a lot of time and cost and I expect to see progress in the early part of 2008,” he said.

Around 20 per cent of Whangamata ratepayers provided feedback on the draft harbour and catchment management plans and Whangamata Mangrove Management Options Report.

Results showed that around half of all respondents were either satisfied or very satisfied with the two draft plans, and that many respondents believe the plans covered all the issues.

Almost all respondents (95 per cent) rated the harbour’s water quality and river and flood management works as the most important.

In total, 44 per cent of respondents were happy with the catchment plan being implemented over a 10-year period, 42 per cent were not happy with this timeframe and 14 per cent didn’t know.

In terms of the mangrove issue, 68 per cent of respondents supported removing 73 hectares of mangroves.

“This is in line with the conversations I’ve had with so many Whangamata residents over the years – they simply want the council to get on with it so they can enjoy their harbour again,” said Cr Friar.

“However, people also want to see action now. This means we’re going to have to think very carefully about the implications of going for the big bang straight off.

“I’m concerned it could get so tangled up in the process and we won’t see any action for years.”

Removing 73 hectares of mangroves is the most complex and potentially costly option because it is more likely to be challenged when the resource consent is notified.

If challenged, and the submitter’s concerns cannot be resolved during the hearings, the council’s request for a consent to remove mangroves could be challenged a second time. This could result in an appeal, and ultimately an Environment Court hearing.

Under Environment Waikato’s Regional Coastal Plan removing four or more hectares of native vegetation from the coastal marine area is a restricted coastal activity. This means it would be the Minister of Conservation who would decide whether to grant a resource consent to remove mangroves. The Minister’s decision would, however, be based on recommendations from Environment Waikato or the Environment Court.

“If removing large areas of mangroves becomes counterproductive to the community's strongest desire to speed up processes, it makes sense to tackle the mangroves in stages and achieve more over time, rather than getting bogged down in court processes with the consequent huge costs,” said Cr Friar.

Work is already underway to stabilise banks, reduce erosion and reduce flood risk along the Wentworth River. This summer, further work will be done to remove blockages and stabilise the river around the golf course and near the State Highway 25 bridge in order to reduce the risk of flooding.

“This river management work is being done before the council applies for consents to begin to remove mangroves from the Moanaanuanu Estuary,” Cr Friar said.

Cr Friar said the council would consider and balance a number of factors when deciding the best way to handle the applications for consents to manage mangroves. These included:

  • feedback from Whangamata ratepayers
  • feedback from other agencies and iwi
  • potential environmental impacts
  • financial and funding implications
  • the likelihood of the decision being challenged and going to the Environment Court.

He asks for the community to extend its patience for a little while longer to allow time to sort this important issue out to allow for the best result for the local community.

He said as far as costs were concerned, he was sure that Environment Waikato would be able to work with the community to ensure that costs were kept to a minimum to reduce any impact on rates.

The next steps

  • Once all the feedback from ratepayers, other agencies and iwi has been reviewed and analysed a full report will be presented to Environment Waikato’s Policy and Strategy Committee in February next year.
  • The Policy and Strategy Committee will make recommendations to the council.
  • The council’s decisions will be included in Environment Waikato’s 2008/09 Draft Annual Plan, which will be available for public comment from 31 March 2008. Submissions will close on 1 May 2008.
  • Based on the submissions received through the Draft Annual Plan process, the council will make a final decision on how mangroves will be managed.
  • 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. If the consent application was to remove four or more hectares, it would be the Minister of Conservation who would decide whether to grant the consent.