Mussel industry uproar at levy bid

The mussel industry is warning the Tasman District Council that it will move away from paying Port Tarakohe line charges if they are doubled, and might switch to other ports for its growing Golden Bay crop.

Recreational users are fighting the council's payment plan, to be voted on early next month, and now marine farmers are adding their voices to the chorus of opposition.

Marine Farming Association executive officer Graeme Coates said the industry was paying a voluntary levy of $1.06 per metre of mussel line to the council for use of Port Tarakohe, 10c higher than farmers pay Port Marlborough.

The TDC is mooting raising the charge to $2.16, having been advised by its consultants WHK Nelson that the calculated charge through the revenue model used in the proposed development plan is actually $4.33 per metre.

"However the market sensitivity suggests that this would not be sustainable and the TDC should reduce the calculated charge by 50 per cent," the WHK proposal says.

Mr Coates said the industry had made a submission to the council saying it had got it wrong.

"The asset we get is not fit for purpose nor is it safe for purpose. We're not going to pay based on a model that's arbitrary and has political elements to it."

The council was giving the industry two choices, to pay the voluntary line levies, or a $15 per tonne wharf charge.

"As an industry we'd rather pay the line levy but if that model is not going to be fair, transparent and unpolitically motivated, we're not into that sort of game.

"With the wharfage you pay the money when you land across the wharf - if you choose to use another wharf, that's fine."

Using other wharves in the region was "an option that's being forced on us".

He said mussel farmers didn't mind paying line levies or charges to use Port Tarakohe and had been doing so for years, but wanted a methodology that was fair, reflected true value and was transparent.

The council was setting a very high replacement value on the port, over $12 million, and that was resulting in the much higher charges it was proposing.

But a "mussel delivery port" was much cheaper and could be built at Tarakohe for under $1 million.

In Marlborough, where the mussel industry is concentrated, the line levy was set after all costs were taken into consideration. If the farmers put in more mussel lines, the levy would come down to achieve the same required return to the port company.

"The way TDC is doing it, as we put more lines in the water, they want more and more money."

There was potential for the industry to eventually be 30-50 per cent as big as in the Marlborough Sounds, but that depended on long-running court action that was unresolved and had an uncertain outcome, Mr Coates said.

The council was trying to isolate Port Tarakohe and get a return on it. "But it's so undercapitalised, they're trying to get the cash before they've improved the assets."

The council, which has faced criticism from ratepayers and the Government for its debt level, says it wants to cease general rates funding for the port and put it on a more commercial footing. However, the proposed fee structure won't provide for a full return on capital, its website says.

Around 120 people attending a public meeting in Golden Bay last week expressed disapproval of the charging model and Mayor Richard Kempthorne told the Nelson Mail the next day that there would be a "slight rethink".

Submissions close today with a decision on the charges to be made early next month, and further discussion on developing the port to follow.

Yesterday Golden Bay councillor Martine Bouillir put out a message urging people to make submissions.

"Your feedback doesn't have to be complicated or require that you understand the financials as noted in the report - just say what your vision or ideas are for Port Tarakohe, what you do or don't want to see happening there. It is all vital community feedback," she said.

The online submissions link is