Around the bend over Tukituki


I've never quite understood the dogged folk who turn up to each and every local authority meeting.

Those who treat their rates as an investment and watch the fund managers' every move.

It makes sense, I guess.

From my experience these council groupies are a broad church.

Some are friendly.

Some aren't.

Some are on to something.

Some aren't.

Some are benevolent.

Some aren't.

Perhaps uncharitably, many in the community refer to the ilk as "nutters". I've heard the epithet used often in newsrooms, usually after long time-wasting conversations with the more irrational - those who both phone and email media with endless theories alleging the fourth estate is caught up in unjust conspiracies with local police and politicians.

As fate would have it, an old friend called me a "nutter" last week.

It was after I told him I threw out a free punnet of fresh whitebait sourced from the mouth of the Tukituki. It was given to me by a friend.

It's the second time in as many years I've made the heartbreaking decision not to mix the white gold with a few eggs, flour and seasoning. Instead of frittering the delicacies I made the miserable walk to the wheelie bin to biff $40-odd of fish.

The turning point came a few years back where I was part of an unofficial media delegation to the Waipukurau oxidation pond. A pond that lies alongside the Tukituki River.

Without wanting to scaremonger, this pond, in its current capacity, simply can't handle the volume of S-bend waste flushed its way. The Tukituki, that all-giving river, is sick by association.

Of course, it's a little more involved than that. In fact it's infinitely more involved than that. Here's what I found in Hawke's Bay Today's headline archive for what I thought would be a brief history on the current Tukituki debate. It was anything but:

February 2005: "CHB effluent causing stink in swimming hole".

March 2005: "Clean river depends on cash".

February 2008: "Greens say rivers in health 'crisis"'.

February 2008: "It could be better, but it's not bad".

March 2008: "No funding for Tukituki".

April 2008: "Council try again with Tukituki meeting".

February 2009: "Water quality work needed".

April 2009: "Tukituki sold down river, says scientist".

May 2009: "Tukituki booked for makeover".

October 2010: "Wastewater upgrade a step closer".

January 2011: "Study on nutrients in the Tukituki River".

February 2011: "Getting the nasties out of the river".

July 2011: "Niwa examines river effluent".

August 2011: "Tukituki wastewater problem addressed".

February 2012: "Hard questions asked".

June 2012: "Floating wetlands to help treatment".

This month: "Meeting focus on catchment".

Like rivers, local body politics don't necessarily take the shortest route. Notwithstanding the second-to-last headline, this is nothing short of a chronology of grief.

Catchment issues, as per the last heading, are perhaps an even bigger hurdle for the river to overcome.

Since visiting the pond - and since seeing photos of what happens in heavy rain (let's just say the river and pond become one) - I've lost a big part of the lifestyle that many of us return to the Bay to enjoy.

I've refused smoked trout from the river.

I've stopped swimming in it - and have banned my kids from doing so. I've advised friends to do the same.

I've turned my nose up at offers to stay in a family friend's riverside cottage.

And don't get me started on whitebait.

It's not that I have a huge stake in this river. But it did loom large in my childhood. My brothers and I rode it regularly with my father in the annual raft race from Tamumu to Patangata. I've fished it, speared eels, shot rabbits on its bank and jumped from willows into a deep swimming hole near Tamumu known locally as Shag Rock.

That said, I've lost touch with the issue.

But in my defence I blame the speed at which it's been addressed. Frankly, I'm staggered it's even up for debate.

It's why I apologise unreservedly to the nutters. Your fight for this once-pristine 117km of river that connects mountain to mouth is a noble one. Sanity in the face of such glacial bureaucratic progress must be hard to hold on to.


Mark Story is assistant editor at Hawke's Bay Today

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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