Environment Waikato is to apply for resource consent to remove up to 61 hectares of mangroves in the Whangamata Harbour.
The council’s move acknowledges the majority of Whangamata residents want the area of mangroves to be reduced to the levels of growth in 1944 so they can enjoy the open harbour and the recreational and aesthetic values they believe have been lost due to mangrove expansion in the harbour.
Some groups have previously opposed the removal of an area of this size for ecological and cultural reasons.
For years the council has attempted to broker a consensus approach and find common ground between the groups to allow for some mangroves to be removed. While councillors hope to resolve the long-running issue through the resource consent route, they are concerned about potentially costly court challenges.
After considerable debate at the December council meeting, the council instructed staff to prepare a consent application, noting its desire to take a staged and carefully managed process of mature mangrove removal with strict conditions and ongoing monitoring.
Before the consent can be developed, staff will work with Whangamata-based coastal marine ecologist Brian Coffey and consultancy Beca-Carter, which was contracted to develop an assessment of the effects of removing 8ha, 16ha, 26ha or 61ha of mangroves from the harbour, and the application for resource consent to:
· establish agreed criteria for the removal of the mangroves from Whangamata Harbour
· apply the agreed criteria to the Whangamata Harbour and establish a common position on the location and area of mangroves to be removed, along with agreed justification for the proposed removal
· and based on the above, complete an assessment of environmental effects and resource consent application for the approval of the council at its meeting in February.
The council noted removal of any area would be on a staged basis and carefully monitored so that the speed of the clearance could be accelerated if appropriate, and slowed or stopped if any adverse effects were identified. In addition, the council wants to see older stands of mangroves at the northern end of the harbour kept as an area for education.
Since July, Whangamata residents have been paying a targeted rate to fund the application for consent and removal works with estimated costs based on a nominal removal of up to 26ha of mangroves.
The council’s rivers and catchment services group – which already undertakes work in the Whangamata catchment to reduce sedimentation and flood risk caused by mangroves blocking stream mouths and drainage to the harbour - is to apply for the consent.