Anger at DOC over silt and mud mess

Golden Bay home owners are unimpressed that they weren't consulted about an old right of way being reopened through a national park, causing silt and mud to run onto their land, including a protected wetland.

However the Department of Conservation says the action is above board and there was no need to consult with anyone.

During Cyclone Ita in April, a pine forest on the late Peter Bridgewater's land, which sits on 240 hectares of private land in the Golden Bay hills above Para Para and Tukurua, was blown over. About 100 trees fell, some causing damage to property and the road.

The land sits within the Kahurangi National Park and is accessible via a right of way easement which had been allowed to dwindle down to a goat track often used by mountain bikers and trampers.

Tukurua home owner Gerard Hindmarsh said he first became aware of the road being re-cleared last week when a neighbour phoned to say mud and silt were draining down into the QEII-protected swamp on his land. He said it was the first time he'd ever seen the waters of the coastal wetland in a muddy state.

"The swamp's a huge filter and it's not coping," said Hindmarsh.

Although he had nothing against the local contractors, "who are just doing their job", Hindmarsh said he was concerned that there had not been adequate controls set in place to protect the national park, and nearby properties from the impacts of the clearing.

Tonnes of clay-laden silt had been pushed over the bank.

"I can't believe they can upgrade an old goat track without consultation or environmental safeguarding, like silt traps, to protect surrounding catchments," he said.

Landowner Victoria Quartly is upset that DOC and the Public Trust didn't think to consult with the community, considering the road travels into a national park for four kilometres.

She said the contractor who arrived to work on the track didn't know her house was off the right of way easement until he arrived.

She didn't know the work was going ahead until a contractor turned up to ask for a key to a DOC gate. She said she was still waiting for them to fix drainage, and in the meantime muddy water was continuously draining down onto her property.

The easement agreement was set up between the Forest Service and Bridgewater in 1986.

The agreement allows the owners of the land to maintain the access road within the easement.

DOC has taken over the easement agreement from the Forest Service.

Takaka DOC spokesman Greg Napp said the owners of the land were "quite entitled" to open up the old access road to repair property damage and harvest the trees, thanks to the original easement agreement.

As guarantor of the easement, DOC had authorised the work, and no public consultation was needed.

He said contractors had done a "reasonable job" on the road and had been asked to maintain the lower part of the easement, by Quartly's driveway, to a standard "of or better than the original state".

The track was created a long time ago and the work on the track was no different from the original work that had first established it, he said.

The recent heavy rain, which created water erosion and runoff, was unfortunate, though the total quantity would have been quite small, he said.

The plan is for the surface to be covered in stone and gravel as soon as possible, but heavy rain had slowed the process, said Napp.

Kerry Strange, senior relationship adviser for the Public Trust which are the trustees of the Peter Bridgewater estate, said he did not accept there had been a lack of public consultation.

He said he had exchanged a number of emails with concerned locals over the past two weeks.

He said since the damage had been done to the pine forest and surrounding property they had needed time to assess whether it was financially viable to harvest the trees, so it was difficult for him to give clear information.

He was now 95 per cent sure it was viable to harvest the trees.

"They've had to restore the roading to a standard where they could get the trucks up," he said.

Any damage done would be put right, he said.

The Nelson Mail