Money for surf reef a wipeout

LAIRD HARPER
Last updated 05:00 17/08/2011
tdn reef stand
CAMERON BURNELL
Surf's out. On Monday, the South Taranaki District Council conceded it was unlikely it would see a cent from the $400,000 it underwrote to the Opunake Artificial Surf Reef Trust and wiped the debt as unrecoverable.

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The Opunake artificial surf reef is dead in the water – taking $1.5 million of public money down with it.

On Monday, the South Taranaki District Council conceded it was unlikely it would see a cent from the $400,000 it underwrote to the Opunake Artificial Surf Reef Trust and wiped the debt as unrecoverable.

South Taranaki mayor Ross Dunlop said the decision was based on an unfinished project, which was not working as promised and the trust's inability to make payments toward the loan.

"It is hugely disappointing, but I think we had little option left but to write the debt off," he said.

"OASRT does not have the ability to repay the loan and is unlikely ever to have."

When the project began five years ago, the council poured in $1.1 million to build the reef.

It involved pumping sand into giant "geotextile" bags and creating a wave-making reef off Opunake Beach.

After various delays, in 2008 the council voted to cover a further $400,000 shortfall after the TSB Community Trust signalled it was reluctant to free up any more money to the group – money the council has now scrubbed from its books.

South Taranaki ratepayers have paid $1.5m for the unfinished project.

ASR Ltd, the company building the reef, has not finished the project and any further work could cost $133,000.

Mr Dunlop admitted the council took a risk by supporting something that was innovative and largely experimental.

"Dr Kerry Black [formerly of ASR Ltd] and his team were very convincing and plausible and they have been able to convince many communities here and around the world of their abilities – their actual performance, however, has been woeful and disgraceful.

"The council was never a party to the contract, so getting some of our money back was always going to be a difficult proposition. I believe it is now time to write this amount off the books."

In a report to the council, corporate services manager Phillippa Wilson said the council had investigated joining the trust in court action against ASR Ltd, but its lawyers said they "cannot see any practicable path which the STDC or the trust could proceed to seek to recover their costs in relation to this project."

Collectively the council and the trust have spent more than $2m towards the controversial and experimental venture. When construction began on the reef, 250m offshore, ASR Ltd said it could be finished within two weeks.

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The council will now work with the trust to remove any equipment left at the Opunake headland so the area can be returned to its former state.

The Taranaki Daily News could not reach the surf reef trust for comment and ASR Ltd technical director, Dr Shaw Mead, was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.

- Taranaki Daily News

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