Construction has stalled on Tauranga's $102 million Southern Pipeline because of a dispute over 12 avocado trees.
A Matapihi Maori land trust locked the orchard access gates about three weeks ago - preventing contractor HEB Construction from laying the sewer main down an unformed road on the last leg of the pipeline's route along the peninsula.
The trees on the edge of the orchard owned by the trust could end up being felled if the city council can prove they intrude on the unformed (paper) road.
Work on the Bayfair end of the pipeline stopped when the Ohuki 1 G2 Trust closed the orchard access gates near Matapihi Rd. The gates also straddle the paper road.
Neighbour and gatekeeper Charlie Timutimu said the gates were locked on legal advice after the trust received a letter from the council that trees flanking the paper road needed to be felled.
"The council wasn't talking compensation, only cutting them down."
Mr Timutimu, whose wife is a trustee, said the council was in breach of a Southern Pipeline impact assessment report which said there would be minor or no damage to fruit trees in Matapihi.
He said the trust was waiting to see what compensation would be offered by the council for the loss of the mature trees.
The former school principal's understanding of the council's case was the trees were growing inside the boundary of the paper road. Mr Timutimu said he noticed some survey pegs had popped up beside his father-in-law's garage off the paper road but they had since disappeared.
He said the trust had asked the council to supply them with the paperwork for the paper road to prove the trees had to go. Weeks had slipped by since then, and he was surprised the council had not done something about it.
Residents could not understand why the pipeline could not go down the middle of the paper road. A meeting was planned to be held with the trust. The Bay of Plenty Times sought a response from the council on the main points of the issue. Chief executive Garry Poole responded with a short statement: "We are working closely with the community on the works being undertaken at Matapihi. We will continue to focus our efforts on working with the community."
Mr Timutimu last year criticised a Maori blessing of workers prior to the start of trenching on the peninsula to lay the pipeline, saying it was done to please council consultation protocols.
He said it was a pipeline carrying human waste products and excrement and the whole Maori community of Matapihi were against the project.
The locking of the gates followed a lengthy community meeting attended by council representatives. It was called in response to complaints about inadequate consultation and communication with Matapihi residents.
The council has lodged a consent to run the $102 million Southern Pipeline under the harbour from Memorial Park to Matapihi Rd.