A petition has been launched opposing the Port of Tauranga's $150 million-plan to position the port for a new generation of mega container ships.
The three-year plan would involve dredging the harbour to deepen the Port of Tauranga's shipping channels and comes after years of deliberations from New Zealand's High Court and Environment Court.
The online petition, which has gained more than 400 signatures, was started three weeks ago by Tauranga man Drew Tata, who said the "impact on the tangata whenua [people of the land] and residents of Tauranga will be detrimental not only to our customary rights to gather food, but the displacement of our pipi, paddle crabs, paua, mussel, cockle and ika (fish)".
"We strongly believe the dredging of Tauranga harbour with the arrival of larger vessels will have boundless effects on our harbour's wellbeing," Mr Tata told the Bay of Plenty Times.
He believed local iwi connections to the Tauranga Harbour would be disturbed and the economic value from dredging would not reach local residents. He said the ecosystem and estuaries would be affected.
Upon hearing of the petition, Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns said he appreciated there were people who were not happy but said the resource consent process was not taken lightly. "We respect there are a lot of people who have concerns and I've learned a lot about the connection local iwi have with the harbour. All those statutory bodies found there were no grounds for what Mr Tata is talking about," Mr Cairns said.
Local Green Party representative Ian McLean said the petition was "30 years too late".
"I'm sorry to say, as an environmentalist, I doubt the additional dredging effects will be strong enough to justify the argument that they will be significant."
Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby said the harbour had been dredged for a very long time, "generally from a maintenance perspective for the Port of Tauranga, so there's nothing new about dredging".
He understood environmental concerns but was comfortable the process would be "environmentally sensitive" and he supported it.
"All these issues were raised, and rightfully so, but certain conditions are in place to minimise any environmental risk."
Tauranga MP Simon Bridges said allowing mega container ships into the Port of Tauranga was important for the region. "The dredging is designed to future-proof the Port of Tauranga for the next 15 to 20 years by allowing it to accommodate the larger container ships that are now becoming more common."
Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller also strongly supported the Port of Tauranga's plan.
"It'll enable Tauranga to become a hub port for the whole of New Zealand, whereby it will accommodate a new generation of ships and cargo that other ports cannot due to not their depth restrictions. It'll connect Tauranga to the world, which is good for our local businesses and our community," he said.
Tauranga harbour dredging
* In July this year, Danish dredging company Rohde Nielsen was appointed to deepen and widen the shipping channels from 12.9 metres to 14.5m depth inside the harbour and 15.8m outside the harbour.
* The appointment follows a 2012 High Court decision allowing the dredging.
* Ngati Ruahine had appealed against the Environment Court's decision, however Justice Priestley said the Environment Court had carefully and correctly weighed the adverse cultural effects and balanced them against the national and regional significance of the Port of Tauranga.