Tensions rise on busy river

EMILY SPINK
Last updated 05:00 13/03/2014
Armin Svoboda
Joseph Johnson/Fairfax NZ
MORE TRAFFIC: Armin Svoboda, head of the Kaiapoi's Cure Boating Club, is concerned for the safety of Waimakariri River users due to increased congestion.

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A "huge increase" in use of the lower Waimakariri River by rowers and anglers has prompted a warning that a bad accident on the water is inevitable.

Anglers now have to share the river with a large number of Christchurch-based clubs and high school rowers, who were forced to relocate from Kerrs Reach on the Avon River after the earthquakes.

Tensions are mounting between river users, with complaints made to Environment Canterbury (ECan) about behaviour.

Kaiapoi's Cure Boating Club head coach and club captain Armin Svoboda said he was concerned for the safety of all river users due to the increased congestion.

"Sooner or later we're going to have a major injury, accident or death."

The "huge increase" in recreational use on the river by rowers and fishermen could mean 30 to 40 boats or jet skis on the river at any one time, alongside 10 to 12 rowing boats, he said.

The club had co-existed with fishermen on the river for many years and had noted a huge increase in numbers this year.

Despite an "unwritten etiquette" about where fishermen parked their boats, some had parked directly in the rowing lanes, which was a major safety issue. "Some are really good. They give way, and [others] when we ask them to slow down, lose it."

The Kaiapoi club had operated on the river for 168 years. Svoboda said he was disappointed with the situation. "But what can we do. There's been an earthquake."

Environment Canterbury recreational boating officer Evan Walker said the breakdown between users had occurred this year with the "considerable" increase in rowing teams. He had fielded several complaints from fishermen, who had accused rowing groups of being discourteous and impeding their activities. While the situation would continue for some time, he hoped it would be "self-correcting" when the rowing season came to an end.

"If there are more complaints and more conflicts, we will have to see about . . . sorting it out."

Fish and Game South Island spokesman Andrew Currie said complaints included rowers going up and down the wrong sides of the river, rowing into the bank, crews falling out of boats with no safety/coaching boat in sight and crews stopping among the anglers for coaching briefings. This last incident was perceived by the anglers to be deliberate attempt to antagonise them, he said.

Rangi Ruru Girls' School head rowing coach Mark Cotham said out of its squad of 45 girls, only 12 went to the river at any time for safety reasons. The crews trained three times a week and sent one coaching boat to accompany a maximum of two crews.

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He had heard of only one incident involving his crew when a fisherman cast a line as the girls rowed past.

- The Press

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