The Bay is set to become the scene of a major David versus Goliath battle, with the owners of the Rena today announcing they will lodge an application to leave the wreck on the seabed by May this year - a move that Tauranga mayor Stuart Crosby said would be an "awful legacy" with "consequences on tourism and business in the Bay of Plenty for a long time to come".
Senior representatives of the Rena's owner and insurer will this week meet with Bay iwi and community representatives to discuss their final decision to apply for the resource consents.
The application is expected to be lodged between the end of March and May this year, with the exact date uncertain due to difficulties with the planned removal of the ship's accommodation block.
News of the application is no surprise to the Bay's leaders who say they hope people, not just in the region, but across New Zealand join the fight to get every part of the wreck removed.
Tauranga mayor Stuart Crosby said Tauranga City Council would wait until the application is lodged before deciding to make a submission.
"I truly hope council does make a submission," he said.
"If that wreck remains it will be an awful legacy hanging over our heads, one that could have consequences on tourism and business in the Bay of Plenty for a long time to come."
Mr Crosby said he personally wanted the wreck removed and a "substantial bond" paid to cover any future environmental issues. "This is a big issue for the Bay of Plenty community," he said.
"My only concern is that there is likely to be a lot of people who will be disadvantaged through the submission process. I fear the people most affected may not have the resources to make submissions. I fear many will be taking a knife to a gun fight. This application will be based on science and no one will have the same resources to argue against some of the science.
"However, I still encourage people to participate at any level. We need a lot of voices."
Outgoing Tauranga Moana Iwi Leaders Forum chair Awanui Black told the Bay of Plenty Times the whole nation needs to decide on what will happen to the Rena.
The New Zealand Government needs to back that final decision, he said.
"Iwi are collectively advocating for full removal from the reef," he said.
"But this is not just about us, it is about what the nation decides. The whole nation needs to have a say on this.
"The Rena will set the precedent for every other marine disaster, any other wreck that devastates a community.
"We have to fight not just for the Bay of Plenty but for the whole nation, together and with the staunch backing of the Government."
Mr Black said iwi are concerned that the Government is backing away from its stance to see the wreck removed.
"They were speaking strongly about it but lately they have gone quiet," he said.
The Government stands to receive an additional $10.4 million in compensation from the Rena's owners [Daina Shipping Company] if the wreck is left on the reef, an amount on top of the already agreed $27 million paid for the grounding.
MP for Tauranga, Simon Bridges denied the Government was focused on the extra compensation money.
He said the Government's position was that in an "ideal world" the Rena would be removed completely.
He said to receive resource consent the Rena's owners would have to go through a vigorous resource consent process and meet many conditions to leave the wreck in place.
"The Government has been committed from day one of the Rena accident to on-going clean-up and recovery. The ball has always been in the owner's court. They have always had the option to make this application."
Speaking on behalf of Rena's owner and insurer, Captain John Owen said the decision was reached after "extensive engagement" on the future of the wreck with iwi and representatives of the Bay of Plenty communities.
"The application will include an assessment of environmental effects and will provide interested parties with a comprehensive body of information on the proposal for the future of the wreck, including proposed conditions in relation to environmental monitoring, wreck access and shore management, if consent is granted," he said.
The application will be lodged with the Bay of Plenty Regional Council but will likely end up in the Environment Court because the council opposes the proposal.
Further detail about the consent application and assessment information will become available when the application is lodged with BOPRC.
Information will also be made available from the Rena Project and Bay of Plenty Regional Council websites.
The Bay of Plenty Times contacted BOPRC chairman Doug Leeder and Minister for the Environment Amy Adams, but neither responded before the paper went to print.