The Russell community is up in arms at the building of a private wharf on customary shellfish beds at Uruti Bay. The Northland Regional Council approved the application for resource consent without notification and construction is well underway.
Uruti Bay is a ten minute trip by barge from Orongo Bay just around the corner and it was the first time some of the locals onboard had had an opportunity to see the major extension to what was a small jetty.
Emma Gibbs told Te Kaea, "There is no reason for this structure here because it's too shallow for watercraft to get here so they'll have to dredge the foreshore and it's our shellfish beds you see here that will be lost."
Ecologist Lisette Collins alerted others locals of her concern after she received verbal abused from those onshore when collecting shellfish at Uruti earlier this week, "To see whats happening on the land behind that was kiwi habitat and the stream that came down there is now in a pipe is what enabled the pipi beds to exist. So seeing the damage is distressing and then having people yelling at you to get off public land made me very angry."
The Regional Council told Te Kaea its not unusual for resource consent applications to be processed in a non-notified manner. While its a significant extension including a wooden piled jetty and gangway and pontoon extending into the coastal marine area, assessments carried out this week around the placement of the piled jetty had confirmed no more than minor affects on shellfish with its presence not likely to have ongoing effects.
Alex Clifford says, "I'm an oyster farmer but also I'm tangata whenua and this jetty and dregdging concerns me big, both for oyster farming because of our water quality and also coming around here and picking kokota (shellfish) and fishing."
But yesterday afternoon the council confirmed that the applicant had contacted them requesting the withdrawal of the application for dredging in recognition of the concerns of the community and their own growing understanding of the nature of the shellfish beds.
Ms Collins said, "The process has really let people down. There should have been an ecological assessment a cultural assessment archaeological assessment and public access should have been taken into account. I haven't seen any evidence that council have done those things. The council are the people we pay as ratepayers to look after the environment. It's their job!"
For decades Mr Cliffords' whanau have operated an oyster farm out of Orongo Bay leasing the marine area from the council and also paying thousands per year for testing of the water quality. That information is shared with health authorities and the Ministry of Primary Industries.
He told Te Kaea, "The Regional council are our landlords and they're letting this go without us having any input. We are stakeholders in all of this and we get left out? It's not good enough!!
Emma Gibbs says, " The council doesn't seem to even want to know about the sustainable practices used by the traditional custodians of this place. Maori know it doesn't belong to you or me but to all of us."
The community wants a voice in the future management of their natural resources.