Whangamata mangroves' time up

AARON LEAMAN
Last updated 09:30 08/12/2012
Mangroves
PETER DRURY/Fairfax NZ

Cut back: Thames Coromandel councillor Jack WellsntsTnte examines an area of mangroves cleared inside Whangamata Harbour.

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The removal process has been frustrating, writes Aaron Leaman.

Waikato Regional Council will start clearing native mangroves at Whangamata before Christmas but say recent unauthorised cuttings inside the harbour did not force their hand.

Frustrated residents last month used chainsaws to clear mangroves from an area the size of two tennis courts inside Moanuanuanu Estuary.

Speaking at the time, Thames Coromandel councillor Jack Wells said the regional council had failed to control the spread of mangroves which now choked parts of the harbour.

About 20 per cent of the 500-hectare harbour is covered in the plants.

The Environment Court has given the regional council permission to clear 22.9ha of mangroves at Whangamata, including tidying up 4.2ha of mangroves removed during unauthorised clearances and 1.72ha for drainage work.

The clearance work was to start in March but Whangamata mangroves project manager Emily O'Donnell yesterday said removal work would now begin next week.

About 2000 square metres will be cleared on the northeastern, waterside edge of the harbour.

Ms O'Donnell said the council understood the removal process had been a "long and frustrating process" for Whangamata residents.

"We have been very keen ourselves to get on with clearance as soon as possible and have also heard the local community's desire for us to get on with things as quickly as we can," she said.

"Part of the reason we can bring things forward in this area is that the section is to be cleared by hand, which is less intrusive, and there are fewer ecological considerations at this time of year."

A contractor will be used to clear the mangroves and load them on to a barge for disposal on land.

Council spokesman Stephen Ward said the recent "community action" was considered during discussions about starting the clearance work earlier but added: "It's fair to say we've been looking at bringing things forward for some time."

Mr Ward said the council had not made a decision whether to formally investigate the unauthorised cutting but was keeping a watching brief on the situation.

Regional council deputy chairman Simon Friar, who is based in Whangamata, said he was pleased some clearance was starting and sympathised with residents' frustrations.

"[I] remained concerned that the scale of clearance, and the conditions it is proceeding under, is still quite limited.

Mr Friar said he did not believe that the Resource Management Act process was the appropriate method for determining future harbour restoration.

"I feel the present RMA avenue only leads to extreme time delays and huge costs for communities that cannot afford it."

aaron.leaman@waikatotimes.co.nz

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