By ROSALEEN MacBRAYNE
Mt Maunganui could miss out on getting New Zealand's first artificial surf reef because fans of the project are not putting their money where their mouths are.
Despite plenty of verbal support, the bulk of the $800,000 needed to pay for the sandbag structure has not flowed in. If the reef is not built this winter, others may pip it at the post.
Wellington has resource consent and is finalising funding for a $1.1 million reef at Lyall Bay, with a council contribution of $465,000.
The South Taranaki District Council has allocated the full budget for Opunake's $800,000 construction and a resource consent application has been made.
New Plymouth is at the concept stage; studies are being done at Orewa; and discussions are under way in Christchurch.
The Tauranga City Council has earmarked $150,000 for the long-planned Mt Maunganui reef, once construction starts, and the Port of Tauranga has said it will donate 5000 cu m of sand.
Public contributions have been trickling in. In response to 8000 brochures sent out late last year appealing for funds, only one donation, of $5, was received.
A support petition in local surf shops has gathered 5000 signatures - none accompanied by cash. Mount Reef T-shirt sales have raised about $12,000 but efforts to attract business cash in exchange for naming rights to the reef have failed so far.
"Everyone still wants it to happen, but they're leaving it to everyone else," said perplexed reef spokesman David Neilson.
Resource consent to build the reef 250m off the main Mt Maunganui beach near Tay St was granted in 1999. Organisers are anxious to complete the design and call tenders within six weeks.
If the project was held up and others eventuated, Mr Neilson said, "the Mount will look silly".
An artificial surf reef at Mt Maunganui started as a research idea at the University of Waikato under the direction of Professor Kerry Black about eight years ago.
It was to have been the first of its type in the world but Australia's Gold Coast rolled ahead with a reef nearly five times bigger.
The technology pioneered by Dr Black and his colleagues is sought after internationally and Dr Black is now managing director of Artificial Surf Reef.
Mt Maunganui was chosen for its many resident surfers and thriving surf industry.
The reef would create high-quality surfing waves as well as providing coastal protection.
Dr Black, a foundation member of the Mount Reef Trust, said he could not understand the "dallying".
The economic return on the Surfers Paradise reef was $70 for every $1 spent.