Big development for Port Motueka if Whanganui-Motueka ferry plan proceeds

Authors of the Whanganui to Motueka ferry service feasibility study Nik Zangouropoulos, left, and Warwick Walbran with ...

Authors of the Whanganui to Motueka ferry service feasibility study Nik Zangouropoulos, left, and Warwick Walbran with Midwest Ferries director Neville Johnson in the TDC chamber.

Port Motueka could undergo a massive transformation if a proposed $100 million Whanganui-Motueka ferry service gets the go-ahead.

The project is proposed to involve a 7-metre deep channel through the internationally recognised Motueka Sandspit, and a Y-shaped turning area to allow ferries to reverse and dock.

Reclamation of an adjacent area for parking and marshalling is also proposed.

A proposed Motueka-Whanganui ferry could cut up to four hours from a typical journey from Auckland to Christchurch ...

A proposed Motueka-Whanganui ferry could cut up to four hours from a typical journey from Auckland to Christchurch compared to the current Picton to Wellington route.

The proposals outlined to the Tasman District Council (TDC) on Thursday saw one councillor raise environmental concerns about the impact on the sandspit. It is recognised as an internationally important site for shorebirds, including migrating godwits.

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Advocates for the Midwest Ferries Ltd project presented a feasibility study to the council and asked for funds to help develop a detailed business case. They requested TDC form a joint taskforce with Whanganui District Council.

Co-author of the feasibility study Nik Zangouropoulus said the proposal to offer a daily return freight trip over the 115-nautical mile route, was commercially viable.

"One vessel and only the freight market initially – that's the best scenario at this stage," he said.

A second ferry for passengers would come later.

The initial one-ferry operation was expected to provide about 120 jobs. Zangouropoulos estimated about one-third could be Motueka jobs.

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"It's hard to know," he said. "It depends on the crew and where they stay, where are they from."

Though the backers of the project were seeking some local government funding and would also request a contribution from central government during the establishment phase, once that past "there's to be no claim on the public purse – it's to be privately funded".

"Now, the quid pro quo that we're seeking with the port owners is an agreement, which is we would put in something in the vicinity of $75m to $100m of investment in return for a long-term usage agreement," Zangouropoulos said.

Whanganui District Council's commercial arm, Whanganui District Council Holdings Limited, had given indicative support for $70,000 and a "subsequent support package" into the next financial year of $100,000, Zangouropoulos told Tasman district councillors.

After the presentation, Zangouropoulos said he expected that proposed financial support to go before the full Whanganui council in early June. A matching financial contribution from TDC was sought, he said. 

Zangouropoulos confirmed Midwest Ferries anticipated it would pay no berthage fees since it would fund the port development.

He told TDC, the operation was predicted to achieve $6m to $7m in earnings before interest and taxes.

"That's a very strong return . . . that we believe is achievable within three years and if we get our job right, it could be achievable within a year."

Zangouropoulos, a business consultant of Wellington, said he was a sceptic when he started investigating the ferry proposal "and now I would consider myself as an advocate to the extent that I've taken over the position as project director".

Co-author of the feasibility study, Warwick Walbran, of Walbran Transport Analysis Ltd, said once a passenger ferry was operating, there was "enormous opportunity" for regional development.

"At the moment, nearly all the tourist traffic runs down SH1 with some side trips left and right and we think the ferry could start an alterative route and maybe they'll go down one side and back up the other," he said. "This is something . . . that the ferry will not be sufficient to make happen but you can't make it happen without the ferry."

Cr Dana Wensley asked about the environmental feasibility of the proposal.

"The Motueka Sandspit is internationally important for the godwit. The Moutere Inlet is the feeding ground for the godwit so I guess I feel personally a sense of unease with you coming to council seeking funding when you haven't, to my perspective, put much effort into the environmental impact," Wensley said.

"I think that is something you will need to put a lot more effort into to gain support from me personally and to get it off the ground."

Walbran said the team recognised it was "weak on environmental assessment, it's one of the first two cabs off the rank for the next stage".

Zangouropoulos said the full impact on the environment could not be assessed until a detailed engineering design was complete, due in the first half of 2018.

"We believe there is a sound case for a technical and commercially feasible project in principle. What we now need to do with your support and with Whanganui's support and with national Government support and private investment support is to establish that it's technically and commercially feasible in practice, which we want to do in the next 14-16 months."

It was agreed a formal request for TDC funding would be submitted in writing. The first sailing is tipped for mid-2021.

 - Stuff


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