Funding delays see Kawau Islanders call for DOC to go
Kawau Islanders are once again calling for Mansion House and its historic reserve to be taken out of the hands of the Department of Conservation and transferred to Auckland Council.
Auckland Council wasn't interested when the Kawau Island Residents and Ratepayers Association (KIRRA) approached it in 2011.
But now have the backing of Rodney Ward Councillor Greg Sayers and Rodney Local Board Chairwoman Beth Houlbrooke who want council to look at this option seriously.
This would require Auckland Council acquiring the crown land and turning it into a Regional Park.
"Kawau Is is the jewel in the crown for Aucklanders and regional tourism alike. It doesn't always get the amount of attention it deserves," Sayers says.
"I'd be very interested in seeing the original reasons for declining the request," Houlbrooke says.
Relations between the islanders and DOC have always been shaky, but they are now at an all-time low, says Les Mellars, chairman of the island's residents and ratepayers group KIRRA.
The group has concerns about restructuring of the department, staff cuts, and loss of funding, and how they are impacting on the management of Mansion House - including its sporadic opening hours.
But the shelving of plans to fell the wilding pine forest on the island this summer - which will see some walking tracks closed for safety until funding approval is given - is the last straw for some, he says.
READ MORE: Kawau Island tracks close after trees fall
All of the tracks on the historic public reserve were closed in May last year due to falling pines.
Some tracks have since re-opened, but KIRRA has been told others will stay shut indefinitely as the department doesn't yet have the money to go ahead with felling and replanting in natives, Mellars says.
David Wilson, DOC staff supervisor for Auckland and Islands, says resource consents have been applied for and a contractor is already lined up for the work.
Felling is not likely to go ahead until next summer at the earliest, and funding is dependent on approval of the project's business case from Wellington, he says.
Dispute Cove and Ladies Bay tracks are likely to stay closed permanently but remedial work on Redwood track may see it open before next summer.
Pine forest covers 80 hectares of the 120 hectare reserve, with most being wilding pines from trees planted when Governor George Grey owned the island in the 1800s.
In 2014, DOC proposed commercially harvesting the forest and replanting it with natives to reduce its $80,000 annual arborist and clean-up bill.
There were hopes commercial harvesting would bring in cash to help fund the replant.
Eight months ago DOC Mahurangi/Warkworth operations manager Nick Turoa advised DOC was planning on cutting down the trees and selling them as logs this summer.
Funding for major repairs to Mansion House has always been problematic - the property is a Crown building and is not owned by DOC, which means funding has to come from outside usual sources.
The same applies to major work on the reserve.
As a multi-million dollar operation, the tree felling falls outside the annual budget for the historic reserve, Wilson says.
Since then more than $1 million has been spent on repairs and upgrading Mansion House.
Island residents and tourist accommodation businesses fear falling visitor numbers to Mansion House will put the ferry service to the island in jeopardy and cut off their lifeline to the mainland.
The Kawau Island ferry service has struggled to remain viable at times so DOC's plans to charge the ferry service and others to cover maintenance and repairs to the historic 141 year old jetty has also alarmed them.
Charging for jetty use is standard practice for DOC wharves and jetties, Wilson says.