Surf reef trust left high and dry

LEIGHTON KEITH
Last updated 05:00 23/03/2011
Bournemouth's artificial surf reef

DOING NOTHING: Bournemouth's artificial surf reef, which is being built by the same company as Opunake's ASR Ltd pokes up out of the water at low tide. The reef has also come in for criticism from the Bournemouth surfing community.

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The Opunake Surf Reef Trust is struggling to contact the company building its problem-plagued artificial surf reef.

Representatives from ASR Ltd failed to turn up to a meeting with the trust and South Taranaki District Council in January to discuss what can be done to get the reef to work.

ASR has also not provided the trust with any details of what needs to be done to finish the project.

"They haven't turned up. I've tried and tried and tried to get them to come to a meeting and to send some information down and none of it has arrived, so I'm getting rather frustrated," trust chairman David Lusk said.

"They were to have sent information down regarding what was required to complete the reef and I haven't even seen that."

He was beginning to doubt the reef would ever be finished. "There is always hope but it seems to be fading."

Mr Lusk said he'd contacted the company several times since Christmas but was not getting any response.

ASR's managing director Nick Behunin, based in California, was in New Zealand recently but made no contact with the trust, he said.

The trust would be meeting soon to discuss what its next step would be and legal action would be considered. "It is going that way, that we need to have some answers from these guys pretty smartly," Mr Lusk said.

The trust was also considering contacting the Bournemouth Borough Council, which is in the same situation with another ASR reef, to see if it would be interested in joining in legal action to recover its money.

"I think that is something that has to be considered," Mr Lusk said.

The project began five years ago with a budget of $1.1 million, which has now blown out to more than $2m with the South Taranaki District Council pouring $1.5m into the development.

When construction began, Dr Kerry Black of ASR said it could be finished within two weeks. Since then ASR has been taken over by American company Sealutions LLC and Dr Black is no longer with the company.

The trust owes ASR money for work that has been done on the reef but has no money to pay for that or any further work.

Mark Smith, Bournemouth Borough Council director of tourism, said specific performance criteria for the reef had not been met.

"Whilst some aspects of performance have been met, both ourselves and ASR agree that work should be undertaken to improve the ride length," Mr Smith said.

Improvement works was scheduled to start in spring/summer 2011, he said.

However the Taranaki Daily News understands local surfers don't share his optimism.

"Many of the public are quite cynical about this scheme and are sceptical that it will ever work."

Most surfers spoken to think it doesn't do anything useful most of the time. The fact that it's 200 metres off the shore also puts off the casual surfer.

International photographer Chris Skone-Roberts was scathing of the reef, which cost, NZ$8.2 million, after a recent competition

"Europe's first artificial surf reef in Bournemouth proved to be an utter disgrace today and once again made us the laughing stock of the surfing calendar. Sorted Surf Shop did a stunning job entertaining the tourists and locals at the surfing competition but the reef just sat there like a stranded, dead, stinking whale," Mr Skone-Roberts said in an e-mail.

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ASR's failure to satisfactorily complete reefs in Opunake, Bournemouth or Mt Maunganui has stalled progress on one proposed for Wellington's Lyall Bay.

"We don't want to get involved in something that isn't going to work," Wellington City Council communications adviser Richard MacLean said.

- Taranaki Daily News

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