Mixed views on water bottling expansion

By Kim Webby

The promise of 60 new jobs at a water bottling plant in the Eastern Bay of Plenty has brought a mixed reaction from local Māori.

Te Teko leader Rihi Vercoe, says the jobs will be welcome in an area of high unemployment and corresponding social issues.

"In saying that, I’m not waging war on my iwi administrators.  This opportunity has come up, I find it appealing and in line with my philosophy of growing the people," she says. 

But the plan to expand the Ōtākiri water bottling plant will see up to a billion plastic bottles of water created each year, mostly for export.

Environmental and cultural concerns have prompted Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Āwa and Ngāti Tūwharetoa to appeal to the Environment Court against the resource management consent.

They refer to the Mataatua Declaration on Water which reconfirms full and exclusive rights for iwi over water. 

They fear their role as kaitiaki is being eroded.

The expanded plant is owned by New Zealand company Creswell Ltd, which is in turn owned by Chinese water bottler, Nongfu Springs.  

Crewsell’s managing director, Michael Gleissner, says the company consulted widely with mana whenua and continues to do so.

Currently, the plant employs just ten full-time staff who are positive about the expansion. 

Some were unemployed for eighteen months or doing seasonal work only before landing a job at Ōtākiri.