Richard Moore: Below surface, anger remains

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SSSSSHHHHHH! Don't say it. Don't allude to it. Crikey don't even think about. It can only be bad for us.

That seems to be the view from many around the Western Bay about the R word.

R word? The Rena. You know that 236m monstrosity that took the longest shortcut in history on its way to Tauranga.

On Friday it's a year to the day since the beastie got stuck on Astrolabe Reef, beginning the worst environmental crisis this nation has seen.

Our beaches were hit by oil, Papamoa Beach was carpeted in the thick, Vegemite-like stuff, 20,000 birds died and an untold number of sea creatures.

On top of that thousands of people spent weeks on the beaches cleaning them by hand. Shovelling up the top layer, sieving the remainder, picking up coated shells from around Mauao.

Security firms had a windfall - and their staff a field day - when the beaches were ordered closed by the suits in charge of the clean-up.

The bureaucrats then took up their faceless power grab. In order to clean up oil you had to be official. You needed to be taught how to do it, they said.

"Hello?" asked the locals. "Did we not do okay in the first week or two while experts dithered? How hard was it to use a plastic spade or shovel to skim off the coated surface, put it in a bag and then move the bags above the tideline for collection?"

Not hard at all when you had already done so, unlike those seat warmers at their desks.

Papamoa residents' shock turned to anger as we were kept from our beach for months.

When I quizzed one reasonably high public servant about the legality of refusing access to a public beach, he laughed it off, saying that they could always call on more laws to enforce if they wanted.

Oh, it must have been a time of joy for bureaucrats, finally they were able to flex their withering muscles. Oh the power, and didn't they love it? All of a sudden they could have meetings and actually discuss something important.

Local businesses whose livelihoods were dependent upon our wonderful Bay waters were confined to port or limited in their operations. As the spring turned to summer, the situation did not improve and firms here took a battering. The fallout widened as summer visitors decided to head elsewhere.

So in the year since October 5, what has happened?

Well, the officers of the Rena responsible for the disaster were jailed - laughingly for only seven months - and they were out after 3 months.

The clean-up continues and the crew cutting up the Rena are doing an amazing job, but one suspects it isn't going fast enough for local interest groups who will only be satisfied when the Rena is completely below water.

Out of sight, out of mind.

Only it is still there as half the ship is sitting backside down beside the Astrolabe Reef leaking out various toxic elements. There are still plenty of large oil specks strewn along Papamoa Beach that many parents and their children are blissfully unaware of until they get home with oil-splotched feet.

What I am amazed at is there will be no official public commemoration of the grounding, nor a permanent marker at Papamoa for this momentous event in the Bay's history.

To ignore the event is short-sighted and borders on insulting to a community that showed true fighting spirit during the darkest days and became closer because of the experience.

TAURANGA's newest art gallery opens this Friday.

It is Lightwave Gallery, at 31 Totara St in the Mount, and it has a wonderful mix of Ken Wright's fine-art landscapes, Ashley Grant's stone carvings and Steve Allan's garden art.

In addition, there are unique steampunk sculptures by Rob Murdoch and check out Todd Harris' giant mermaid sculpture. It is a piece worthy of the atrium of a major fine-arts museum.

The opening begins at 5pm and at 6pm a guest speaker will talk about the Rena Disaster: One Year to the Day and show an audio-visual presentation of the saga.

Having seen the presentation a few times before, I can say this is both entertaining and informative and the speaker looks a lot like me. Even has the same name. See you there. Don't be late. And no heckling.

richard@richardmoore.com

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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