Environmentalists and commercial fishers go head-to-head in resource consent battle over proposed launch site
A remote stretch of east Marlborough coastline has become ground zero in a conflict between environmentalists and a big-name fishing company in need of a new place to launch.
The earthquake and resulting seabed uplift left commercial crayfishing company Burkhart Fisheries struggling to launch its boats from its traditional launch site at Ward Beach.
The company, the single biggest employer in the town of Ward, is in the process of applying for consent to access a new launch site, beside a scientific reserve further up the coast.
A hearing into the resource consent application wrapped up on Thursday after three days of submissions, with a decision expected to be delivered within 15 working days.
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Forest & Bird regional manager Deborah Martin urged the panel to decline the proposal, arguing it risked disturbing animal and plant life, including a New Zealand fur seal colony.
"The stretch of beach from Ward Beach to Chancet Rocks is a wonderful, intriguing coastal wilderness experience - with wildlife, and scientific values that make it more compelling," she said.
Burkhart Fisheries wanted to build on an existing paper road, creating an 8-metre wide track running 1.5 kilometres north from their launch site at the beach to the rocks.
The Chancet Rocks were part of a scientific reserve, which featured a fur seal colony, and was designated as an outstanding natural landscape in a proposed environment plan.
The route, described as similar to a farm track, would traverse sand dunes and run along the beach at points. Bulldozers would be parked at the road end to launch and retrieve boats.
While the sand dunes between Ward Beach and the scientific reserve were covered with Introduced marram grass, Martin said the area was also home to many indigenous species.
Building a road would destroy vegetation in a sensitive dune ecosystem, and potentially make some rare Marlborough species, like the tiny shore buttercup, extinct in the area, she said.
Martin said the area was identified as an outstanding natural landscape, and the presence of heavy, commercial vehicles would ruin its value and turn it into an industrial zone.
Because the proposal sought to build on an existing paper road on public land, she said the consent could not seek to restrict public access, potentially opening the area up to increased traffic.
Lawyer Quentin Davies, representing the Burkharts, said on the first day of the hearing the decision could be as transformative as the earthquake for the small south Marlborough town.
"Ultimately, it is the applicant's case that what confronts the fishing community of Ward is an extraordinary situation for which no policy statement or plan has been written," he said.
As such, he argued the hearings panel should make its decision with regards to Part 2 of the Resource Management Act, which included provisions for economic and cultural wellbeing.
"The applicants merely seek to continue their own operation. It is true that from the position of the Burkharts they could get someone else to fish for them," he said on Thursday.
"However, doing so would be at the cost of the Ward community, a community which has already suffered much.
"Without product coming from the local fishery there would no justification for the on shore facility to remain in Ward, along with the jobs and economic activity that go with it."
Submissions in support of the application, noted the company had proposed a number of mitigating elements, including a pest management programme to trap pests preying on birdlife in the area.
Trevor Burkhart, who founded the company with his brother Dennis, said everyone at the hearing had presented with passion, and that the company cared about the environment.
"We're just as concerned about the environment and all the little things there as Forest & Bird, we don't want to wreck that, we want to fit in there and make as little a footprint as possible," he said.
- The Marlborough Express