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Te Kouma Wharf

The totally predictable Report on the Wharfing Infrastructure Options is on the agenda to tomorrow's Council meeting.

These are the conclusions:

1. Kopu is ruled out due to heavy metal toxicity.

 2. Coromandel Wharf is not viable based on cost – and also faces issues with potential toxicity, and also increased heavy traffic movements through the town which could adversely affect its heritage and tourism nature.

3. This leaves two locations – Puhi Rare and Sugarloaf.

4. Of these two locations, Sugarloaf is recommended as the preferred option because it is an already modified site that currently operates as a wharf, and it is more cost-effective. 

Reporting team - Ben Dunbar-Smith's and Gordon Reynold's heavy prejudice in favour of this option was telegraphed in their earlier 'discussion document', and it was unlikely that the Report would substantially deviate from their earlier conclusions. What is interesting is the sudden and complete elimination of Kopu through the discovery of high concentrations of mercury in particular that they estimate dredging and disposal would cost up to $80m.  

That certainly appears game, set ands match, at first look. But we need to examine the evidence that they present against Kopu very carefully, because their definite preference for Te Kouma appears to have fish-hooks that may have been downplayed in the Report. I doubt if this will happen - the Mayor's clear preference for Windy Point comes through with his proposal for a further engineering report in that regard.

Thames again appears to be getting the 'bums rush', and supporters of Kopu should not give up, but they need to make themselves better heard - particularly by Thames councillors who give every appearance of being taken along for the ride - they are certainly not speaking out in public on the issue. In fact, do they ever speak out on any issue?

These are the two 'killers' of Kopu unfortunately - dredging and toxicity: 

P 56 - This study noted that while the Kopu site has good river depth at the proposed wharf site, the real problem comes at the river-mouth where the entrance is very shallow with an extensive sandbar. “This section represents the greatest potential restriction to the provision of true all tide access to a Kopu Wharf. From discussions with operators using this section of water, it is understood that not only is the water shallow, but also that the channel may not be fixed in location.” 

P 63 The history of mining further up the river and initial testing both indicate that heavymetal contamination may be a problem in the dredged channel. If heavy metal contamination is confirmed then it is a serious problem and has an adverse economic impact on the cost of both dredging and disposal of dredged materials, and on the viability of the Kopu site".

P 66  Any dredging would face consent conditions requiring the consent holder to prevent the escape of too much suspended sediment. This could add significantly to the dredging costs – and could require pumping onto a shore site (expensive over 3kms), encasement of dredgings in cement, or in the worst case removal beyond the 12 mile limit.

P 68 Indeed the Waikato Regional Council staff stated that “If toxicity is found at the Waihou Rivermouth, then this is most likely to represent a “fatal flaw” for the Kopu site – from the regional council perspective.

The two big Te Kouma question marks that are glossed over in the Report concern the objections of Te Kouma residents who are well organised, and capable of mounting a major and credible challenge through the consenting process, and the Te Kouma / SH 25 intersection. To suggest that the latter is only an option is fallacious. The increased trucking will create an unacceptable traffic hazard on that corner that neither Council, nor NZTA could ignore. It is highly unlikely that NZTA will meet the cost, but you can bet your Kiwi Saver A/c that they will provide a total blocking motion in the consenting process unless someone fronts for a traffic solution. And if Matt Busch's $500,000 is anywhere near trhe mark, I will eat my hat (the straw one!).

The Te Kouma residents objections and suggested alternatives are well stated on page 31 of the Report. Strenuous effort has been exercised in reviewing the alternatives. Whether it will satisfy the objectors is another matter.    

The Report recommends that the industry pay for the wharf expansion, and that provision be made in the TYP for the intersection - that is where the rate-payers will get to subsidise the industry, but my intuition tells me that assurances have already been given the industry that Council will front for a substantial proportion of the wharf cost as well with some provision for long term recovery from the Industry. And you can also bet on the terms being very, very advantageous for the industry. In that regard, Recommendation 6) reads as follows:

"Asks the Project Team to provide advice on options for managing the financial and other risk associated with the Sugarloaf Wharf, including considering whether it should be recognized as a district-wide asset given the economic benefits that would result for the district as a whole".

There are potentially substantially rating issues involved with that carefully worded recommendation. 

Note that $1.14m has already been been allocated in the current financial year by TCDC for the development of the Business Case of which the Report will form an integral part. The same Dunbar-Smith/Reynolds team are asking to be appointed to proceed with the development of the business case. I have seen no information provided as to why this work should not be put out to tender in the usual manner, and the best qualified person or group appointed to carry out this further stage. I have nothing against Messrs Dunbar-Smith or Reynolds, but feel distinctly uncomfortable that these same people have carried through every stage of this project up until now in close collusion with the industry without any evidence of a peer-group review.

It is essential that new blood take a long hard look at what is being proposed, particularly in view of the financial implications for rate-payers. An independent review is critical at the Business Case stage - that seems like a minimum prudential requirement in my view.  




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Reader Comments (1)

The Te Kouma ratepayers continue to oppose the proposed expansion of the Sugar Loaf area. A long history of non compliance by the aquaculture industry make us sceptical that anything will change if the expansion is allowed to go ahead. Te Kouma Bay Rd is dangerous ( a fact not addressed in all reports) ongoing pollution of Waipapa Bay is a reality and noise during the night time hours is ongoing.
Lack of long term planning by this industry is being paid for now and we resent Councils considerable financial input from ratepayers.
For further information on Waipapa Bay see Waipapa - a website for information and history of the Sugar Loaf area.

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMegan Mackie

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