Environment Waikato and Waipa District Council proposals to make a significant financial contribution to maintaining the predator-proof fence at Maungatautari are about ensuring the continued operation of a unique native bird-breeding site, says EW deputy chairman John Fisher.
Cr Fisher – who has been on a committee overseeing plans for greater EW and Waipa District involvement in fence maintenance – was responding to a ratepayer’s questions about the proposal.
EW has suggested in its draft 2009-19 Long-Term Council Community Plan (LTTCP) that it levy a $1.80 per household charge from next year so that the council could contribute $300,000 annually to maintenance costs.
"The Maungatautari project is very worthwhile given its contribution to threatened birdlife and other wildlife, such as bats, frogs and lizards, and the way it protects 3,500 hectares of very special Waikato forest," Cr Fisher said.
"It is not some sort of traditional ‘private enterprise’ as has been suggested – it is a project aimed at providing community-wide benefits."
He rejected a suggestion that EW was not consulting on the plan. "That’s exactly what we are doing through our LTCCP consultation process. We have highlighted the Maungatautari issue in media releases and called for public submissions, which will be taken into account before we make a final decision."
Cr Fisher said council has signaled the $300,000 a year contribution level would be capped for three years, and then be reviewed as part of the next LTCCP process.
The trust would ultimately be responsible for replacing the fence when it came to the end of its useful life, not EW or Waipa District, he said.
EW and Waipa District would ensure they had close oversight of any council money put into the project and they would have representatives on an advisory committee that reviews operations at Maungatautari.
The council would not be contributing to the paying off of the trust’s overdraft, which was a matter for the trustees to handle, nor is EW planning to help the trust pay off debt. Options for handling the long-term paying off of debt are currently being investigated by the trust.
On a suggestion that EW could call for voluntary contributions to the trust rather than strike the special $1.80 per household rate, Cr Fisher said this would not guarantee enough funding to maintain operations at Maungatautari.
"I believe a special rate is justified because of the support the fence gives to regional birdlife, and other wildlife, as well as the special forests on Maungatautari.
"However, it’s clear there are some who question whether it is worthwhile and all submissions on this issue will be considered during the hearings on our draft LTCCP."
Submissions on the draft LTCCP close on Monday 20 April. The submissions will be considered by council in May, and the final LTCCP is due to be decided on before July.