The High Court has been asked to rule on a dispute involving a cultural clash with the potential to disrupt completion of Tauranga's $102 million Southern Pipeline.
Construction of the sewage pipeline along what the council argued was an unformed legal road at Matapihi has been unable to proceed because of a challenge by trustees of adjoining blocks of Maori-owned land.
The pipeline that will carry human and industrial waste from the city's southern suburbs through the middle of the largely Maori owned peninsula has been the target of long-standing opposition on cultural grounds.
Doubt now surrounds the legal right of the council to use the unformed road as the route for the final leg of the pipeline from Matapihi Rd to SH29, before it linked into the Te Maunga sewage treatment works.
A trustee for one of the three blocks, Hayden Henry, said it was about Matapihi's cultural relationship to an ancient path which the council said it owned and called a "paper road".
Trustees for another block had also taken issue with the forced removal of six avocado trees which the council said was in the path of the pipeline.
Council chief executive Garry Poole said the council was seeking a declaratory judgment at the High Court to determine ownership of the paper road.
The hearing takes place in Hamilton next Thursday.
The issue was heading to a confrontation on April 21 when a picket was formed across the entrance to the paper road to prevent access by council contractors.
However, authorities held off on that occasion out of respect for the tangi under way for a 5-year-old girl killed a few days earlier on Matapihi Rd, trustees were told.
Project community liaison Charlie Timutimu said construction was on hold pending the outcome of the court decision.
He understood the council had agreed to pay compensation of $10,000 per tree but had put trustees on the back foot by wanting to start work first.
Mr Henry, a trustee of the Ohuki-Matapihi Trust, said no one was clear how a cultural path used by tangata whenua for hundreds of years to access fishing grounds and harakeke (flax) had become a council paper road.
"That is what we want to know from the court."
He said the path provided vital access to resources but also linked across modern-day SH29 to an old pa site on a point of land above Rangataua Bay. "How did the council claim it for a paper road."
Trustees representing the more than 800 communal owners of the kiwifruit and avocado orchard land were also concerned by the air vents along the route of the pipeline.
Mr Henry said they had been told that the vents released good quality air. "But to us it is air coming out of a s*** pipe."
It meant that culturally unclean emissions were wafting over orchards. "Our relationship with mother earth is based on clean air."
One of the vents protruded up into the air across from Matapihi's school, Te Kura o Matapihi. "We thought, oh man, these are the types of issues we are facing.
We did not want this infrastructure in here."
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