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Environment Waikato seeks consent pathway through opposing views on mangroves

Environment Waikato intends to apply for consents itself to undertake mangrove clearing in specially designated areas of Whangamata Harbour as part of a wider catchment plan that deals with both cause and effect.

“Sediment entering the harbour is what is helping fuel the growth of mangroves, so we intend to deal with these wider issues through catchment works in the upper harbour,” says Environment Waikato chief executive, Harry Wilson.

“At the same time, we will be applying for consents to undertake clearance of 8 ha of mature mangroves, which are identified for removal in the draft Whangamata Harbour Plan.

Mr Wilson said there was a legal process for the removal of mangroves from the Whangamata Harbour, which must be followed.

“Environment Waikato has spent the past year trying to get the various parties to agree on the right way forward,” he said.

“Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, Whangamata is a polarised community on the mangrove issue. On the one hand, there are those who believe that mangroves are a weed that is choking up the harbour, and should be eradicated. On the other hand, there are groups who believe mangroves are an important part of the natural ecosystem, and should be protected.

“Environment Waikato has been undertaking the difficult task of trying to get agreement from these opposing groups on the best way forward for the harbour. This involved three main strategies:

Seedling removal

“In order to “hold the line” on the spread of mangroves, we have been working with Whangamata Harbour Care for them to get consent for the removal of mangrove seedlings. This consent, which was approved by independent commissioners last year, was appealed to the Environment Court by Forest and Bird and iwi.“

The Environment Court last month gave the go-ahead for seedling removal, with some modified conditions - which means that seedling removal can commence this year.

Because of the seedling removal process, Mr Wilson said that mangroves would not spread beyond their current boundaries.

Harbour Plan

“The one thing the community seemed to united upon was the need for a Harbour Plan, which we have completed. This 70 page document sets out the general issues for the harbour, and specifically identifies 8 ha of harbour for mangrove removal.

The Harbour Plan, which has involved extensive consultation with all key stakeholders, is due to go out for public consultation shortly.”

Wider catchment plan

“Now that the Harbour Plan is nearing completion, we can begin works on a wider catchment plan, which will include erosion control in the upper catchment, riparian planting to reduce streambank erosion, and investigation of sediment traps near the stream outlets into the harbour.

“This next stage of works will deal with the causes of siltation, which provide the garden within which mangroves grow. While we are going to be applying for a consent to deal with the effect (mature mangroves), we also need to deal with the cause (siltation) in order to make a long-term difference to the harbour.

Mr Wilson said it was unfortunate that one section of the community has recently decided to take the law into their own hands - and had undertaken the felling of several hectares of mature mangroves in late January this year.

“Environment Waikato is currently undertaking a separate investigation into this unauthorised clearing. A decision on enforcement will be made once all the evidence is collected.”

Apart from the enforcement investigation, Environment Waikato's Policy and Strategy Committee has voted to allow council to itself undertake and fund works for removal of mature mangroves within the areas designated in the draft Whangamata Harbour Plan. This will involve a consent process.

Mr Wilson noted that this consent process could cost in the order of $250,000 if it is appealed all the way to the Environment Court.

“The sensible answer here is for the Whangamata community to put aside its differences, and come to general agreement on the best way of dealing with the mangrove issue.

“In this debate, proponents often cite Tauranga as an example of successful mangrove removal, and criticise Environment Waikato for failing to deal expeditiously with the problem. The truth is that the Tauranga community (which has exactly the same rules as Environment Waikato) was united in its agreement to remove mangroves from specific areas, which meant that the process of consent only cost approximately $3000.

“Because the Whangamata community is divided on this issue, it is likely that ratepayers may have to pay large sums of money to go down the consent route, which is the only legal option available.

“I would call on both sides of this debate to sit down around a table, and sort it out so that the best interests of the Whangamata Harbour, and the regional ratepayers can be served.”

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