Hapu backed by Sharples as drill protest continues

BY HARRIET PALMER
Last updated 05:00 24/03/2009
CAMERON BURNELL
DAY TWO: Police speak with members of the Otaraua hapu who are staging a protest at Tikorangi to stop drilling by Greymouth Petroleum.

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The Maori Affairs minister has pledged support for a North Taranaki hapu as it continues to occupy land and hold up an oil company's drilling project.

Last night about 25 members of the Otaraua hapu prepared for their second night blocking access to a site being used by Greymouth Petroleum for a new pipeline to Te Kowhai gasfield off Ngatimaru Rd at Tikorangi.

The hapu took over on Sunday after claims work would desecrate Tikorangi Pa, a waahi tapu (sacred) site, which is not protected by the district plan.

Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples said he was "deeply disappointed" by the situation and said Maori interests needed to be taken more seriously.

He said the company should have consulted with the hapu despite not legally being required to do so.

"It shows ignorance by the companies that they can go ahead without thinking. I would expect to see consultation with iwi," he said.

Last night, Greymouth Petroleum national office had not returned any Taranaki Daily News phone calls and Taranaki representatives had "no comment," but it was understood there had been some steps taken in negotiation.

Hapu spokesperson David Doorbar said although minor discussion had taken place, the hapu would remain on site until there was an agreement in writing.

"We have some verbal commitments with Greymouth Petroleum as part of ongoing discussions," he said. "But we'll be staying here until we have firm commitment from the company our waahi tapu will not be affected."

Hapu plans to take the issues to the environment court and seek an interim enforcement order to halt works that had been put off until today.

New Plymouth District Council consents manager Ralph Broad said the site was not protected under the district plan because it had been left off a list of waahi tapu sites provided by local iwi and hapu.

He said this was often a problem with the list of sites and the latest was "an example of a site that perhaps should have been included".

"They don't need a resource consent, there's nothing legal we can do. We can't force Greymouth Petroleum to do anything, we can just convey our concern."

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