DoC takes its time on Sea Change for Waiheke

Environment

Promoters of a new marine reserve off Waiheke Island accuse the Department of Conservation of ‘bureaucratic slowness’

A group of marine conservation advocates in the Hauraki Gulf are in disbelief at the Department of Conservation’s lack of progress on a proposed marine reserve off Waiheke Island, despite its overwhelming public support.

Conservation group Friends of the Hauraki Gulf asks why the DoC is “slowing down” the decision on the Hākaimangō-Matiatia Marine Reserve nomination, which they say would be “a real sea change” for the protection of marine life in the the region.

Public submissions for the 2,350 hectare reserve off the northwest coast of Waiheke Island closed in March, with 93% of 1,303 submissions in favor of the reserve – including 95% of Waiheke residents and 70% from Maori bidders.

For one month after submissions closed, the original proponent of the Friends of the Hauraki Gulf proposal was given one month to address any objections to the proposal with the Chief Conservation Officer, before the DoC gave its opinion to the conservation minister.

However, well over 100 days after that period ended, the group complains that the DoC has yet to provide advice to the minister on the matter, or provide a definitive timeline on the next stage of the process.

The group’s chairman, Mike Lee, is a Waiheke resident, former councilor and current candidate for the Waitematā and Gulf ward.

He said the heist was unacceptable and compared the DoC’s speed of movement through the reservation to the Kennedy Point Marina development.

“One can only contrast this bureaucratic slowness with the DoC’s rapid double approval of the Waiheke Marina at Kennedy Point, the green light for a major construction, the controversial endangerment of a breeding penguin colony and the effective privatization of the area,” he said.

He said the DoC was hiding behind treaty partner obligations that did not appear to apply when they signed on to the marina developments.

“It appears that the DoC is using the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, which obviously did not apply to the marina, as an excuse to do nothing, allowing their current interpretation of the principles of the Treaty to deliberately block a process enshrined in law. “, did he declare. said. “Given the current state of the Hauraki Gulf, this is simply not acceptable.”

He said the DoC holdups were preventing Conservation Minister Poto Williams from being able to make a decision anytime soon.

DoC Director of Planning, Permissions and Lands Steve Taylor disagreed with the “slow walking” allegations.

“To the best of our knowledge, this process has not been slower than previous marine reserve application processes,” he said. “We strive to ensure that our advice to the Minister is thorough and sound, and that the views of relevant iwi, hapū and whānau can be conveyed accurately and appropriately.”

He said establishing a marine reserve takes time and every step cannot be missed or rushed.

“In the past, reserves have taken anywhere from two (in the case of West Coast Marine Reserves) to 16 years (in the case of Whangarei Port Marine Reserve) between application and official publication, due to the many competing interests and extensive consultations required,” he said.

Although there was no official visit to the site, he said a visit was scheduled for September.

He said public submissions and objections are an essential part of the decision-making process, and once the decision is passed on to the Minister, it is her choice to uphold any objections made, regardless of the report of the submissions. in favor or against.

In a letter to the group, DoC deputy chief operating officer Henry Weston said the department was working to get advice to Williams by the end of 2022, but that depended on how long it would take. to collect the views of a wide range of stakeholders. parties.

“As far as we know, this is the first marine reserve application from a third-party applicant in over a decade,” he said. “This meant a degree of uncertainty as to how long it would take to fully assess the application and required due diligence of the process.”

He pointed to previous third-party reserve applications that had even longer timelines for decision-making, such as the Tapuae Marine Reserve, which was established off New Plymouth in 2008.

Weston said the process of the DoC developing its advice for the Minister was technically and legally complex, requiring input from a range of outside parties such as local iwi and hapū, New Zealand Fisheries and the Ministry. transports.

“I understand that you have expressed frustrations with the ‘ongoing’ nature of this engagement, but it is an important part of the department being an honorable Treaty partner,” he said. “It’s an important part of ensuring that any decision made is fair, legal and robust.”

The DoC has provided Friends of the Hauraki Gulf with a tentative schedule indicating that a scientific review and technical evaluation of the proposal is underway.

An impact assessment by Fisheries New Zealand is expected to be completed now, with review and input from a legal team and treaty specialists about to begin.

Thereafter, a final review of the final draft by the local iwi and proponent is scheduled for mid-October, prior to a Crown law review. Then, the DoC plans to provide its final opinion on the matter to the Minister in December.

However, DoC noted that these timelines were ambitious, with expected timelines subject to the availability of resources outside of the direct project team.

Lee noted that the proposal has the full support of the Ngāti Paoa Trust board, the local Piritahi Marae, descendants of the 19th century rangatira Ngāti Paoa and Te Uri Karaka, and anti-marina activists Protect Pūtiki.

He said that given the sometimes contentious and contentious state of historic marine reserve applications, this one had broad and adamant support.

“We have to assume this is another indication of how concerned New Zealanders have become to see meaningful action taken to protect and restore the marine environment by authorities,” he said. “A radical change indeed.”

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