Independent commissioners have okayed plans for a reserve at the centre of a bitter 15-year dispute in Opua, making only minor changes to the council's draft management plan.
The Far North District Council is hoping - perhaps optimistically - the plan will end arguments once and for all about Walls Bay, a waterfront reserve covering just 1300sq m and adjoining Doug's Opua Boatyard. A slipway for boats runs down the middle of the reserve.
During the past 15 years, the dispute has involved boatyard owner Doug Schmuck, Opua resident Mike Rashbrooke (stepson of the boatyard's founder), the council, community groups, iwi, the Green Party, multiple court orders, the police, Northland MP John Carter and an aborted attempt to sort out the issue via an Act of Parliament.
It has cost individuals and the public hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In two fiery days of hearings in October, independent commissioners heard five submitters on the council's Walls Bay Reserve Draft Management Plan and considered 13 written submissions. The commissioners said the plan was a "commendable document" and called for only minor changes. Most submissions related to the presence of the boatyard and Mr Schmuck's activities.
The commissioners said boatyard activities should not be allowed, except to the "most minor extent", to extend on to the reserve. Nor should the boatyard's presence prejudice public use of the reserve.
They called for the boundary between the reserve and the boatyard to be defined by a barrier with a maritime theme, such as bollards and rope.
Some submitters referred to long-standing Treaty claims over the reserve which the commissioners said could be considered next year, at which time the management plan might have to be revisited. Council land is not usually subject to Treaty claims.
Other submitters called for a wooden retaining wall at the bottom of the reserve to be removed. The commissioners' recommendations were debated at length at a Bay of Islands-Whangaroa Community Board meeting on December 19 and will go to the full council in the New Year.
If the plan is adopted, the council will then have to decide how to pay for it.