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Whitianga Coastal Erosion Action Plan

The long awaited Report goes to Council next week. It indicates that it is the result of work done by a Steering Group comprising 19 elected representatives, officials, residents and homeowners.

It has been a long held contention that this was one of the "sleepers" as far as costs were concerned facing any incoming Council. It a pound to a packet of peanuts that despite all claims to the contrary, the long term solutions to this problem will fall on the shoulders of every ratepayer on the spurious, but oft used rationale that they could not possible be covered by effected homeowners, or even the community on the grounds of "unaffordability".

I do not intends to enter into the arguments for and against this policy - most recently applied in regard to the waste-water plants - the entire district ended up paying for what previously had been a locally funded responsibility, and we will go on paying for these plants for years into the future.

Now we are heading the same direction in regard to coastal erosion, even though strong arguments were used to deny community wide responsibility in regards to the Cook's Beach situation. The ocean-side residents finally accepted that if they did not pay for the defense work, no-one would, and aquiesced. Expect members of the re-instatement group there to start looking closely at whatever arrangements are entered into in regard to Whitianga, and again, I expect the whole District to end up paying.

The point is that that purchasers of affected properties bought them in full knowledge of the erosion risks associated with those properties. But from the moment that the risks materialise, the pressure goes on the entire ratepayer base to bale out those whose properties are affected.  And this is always with the background of the enhanced facility and value that these owners have extracted from their investment in the interim.

This syndrome has a name - it is called 'capitalising your gains, and socialising your losses'. It has happened all over the district - not just Whitianga, but it seems that by far the largest danger (and liability) lies in Whitianga, and this is just the beginning. From all body language exhibited  in Council by the three Whitianga councillors, they are anxious to ensure that the costs are shared as widely as possible around the Peninsula, and all ratepayers need to be aware of the likely burden that this entails, not just over the next three years, but forever, or at leasts until somrthing more drastic occurs. This is made even more likely along with the diiminution of the Whitianga financial reserves with the Sports-complex debacle. The Whitianga Board and councillors are no longer able to point to these reserves as financial backing for their ambitious projects. 

The Report itself is an extensive explanation of the entire problem that exists from Whitinaga Waterway's Canal right through to the northern end of Brophy's Breach at Stormont Lane. It develops an action plan that sets out options and priorities, and purports to suggest likely cost parameters. It further explains enhancement opportunities, facilities (boat ramp) etc., and outlines a number of dredging options.

The total cost estimated in the Report is some $1.3m over three years, but there are a number of important items that are missing from this estimate for one reason or another, including consents and the Area E Seawall which is the basis of substantial disagreement between TCDC, WRC and the homeowners from Vause to Te Waiti Stream.  Further argument is anticipated - particularly with regard to 'set-back' issues arising from District Plan proposals that are about to go to public consultation.

Regardless of who has to pay, there is much of merit in this Plan as a 'way-forward' to resolve some of the outstanding issues with this problematic area. Of course, it avoids all mention of the tsunami risk, and consequences for this particularly vulnerable coast-front. But whatever view is taken of the Report, the question as to just where costs lie will remain contentious, and cannot be avoided simply because no analysis has been done regarding an appropriate allocation. Further, major questions remain concerning the WRC responsibility, and commitment.  




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