Plans to host super-sized container ships at the Port of Tauranga have been put on hold as the port prepares to fight another legal battle.
Port of Tauranga shareholders were told yesterday at the Annual General Meeting that Ngati Ruahine hapu, which previously appealed the port's plans to dredge its shipping channel at the Environment Court and High Court, has taken its appeal to the Court of Appeal.
Chairman John Parker said the port had already spent $2.5 million on legal costs since it first lodged its resource consent application four years ago.
"It's been a debilitating, long and costly process.
"As a result of the process, we have made changes to meet obligations, but it's a process that's much too long and too costly for both objectors and us and seriously needs an overhaul."
Chief executive Mark Cairns said port management had been "greatly relieved" when the High Court dismissed Ngati Ruahine's appeal last month.
"Unfortunately, we received notice last week that Ngati Ruahine were appealing to the Court of Appeal."
"Needless to say, we will be vigourously challenging the legitimacy of this appeal - the dredging consent has now been recommended variously by a panel of Independent Commissioners in May 2010, confirmed by the Environment Court in December 2011, and also last month by the High Court."
Mr Cairns said the port hoped to quickly resolve the matter as it wanted to begin the first stage of dredging towards the end of next year.
"New Zealand's economy desperately needs the $338 million of benefits that the New Zealand Shippers' Council estimates will flow from bigger ships operating on the South East Asia trade routes."
The prolonged period spent seeking a dredging consent had been "challenging", Mr Cairns said, but he believed it had been done with "a great deal of mutual respect and co-operation from most hapu".
Maintaining productive working relationships with tangata whenua was still a high priority for the port, he said.
Answering shareholders questions, Mr Porter said the conditions agreed upon during the Environment Court process which required the establishment of a harbour management trust made up of iwi and port representatives were not a "buy off". "There are mitigation that we agreed to do in regard to making sure that pipi beds do not deteriorate as a consequence of our dredging, so we're paying money towards doing that. Does it get to the stage of being a buy-off? In my opinion, no. Are we trying to have a good relationship with iwi? Yes we are, but not to the point of getting involved in buy-offs."
He said he did not know exactly what was being appealed, other than the appeal was questioning whether various points of law had been observed.
Shareholders were also told that the port intended spending $180 million over the next three years on an expansion programme, in addition to the $39 million spent over the last financial year.
Ngati Ruahine spokesman Lance Waaka was unavailable for comment.