It has been two-and-a-half years since ex-cyclone Debbie destroyed part of Mount Maunganui's Mauao base track. The wild weather event created a 14m slip and closed off access to a track which attracts millions of visitors each year. Tauranga's new mayor Tenby Powell has grown impatient with what he says is a lack of progress and has wasted no time in getting things moving again. Caroline Fleming and Kiri Gillespie join Powell as he surveys the scene with about 20 other experts to find out exactly what, and who, is needed to potentially open the track again by Christmas.
A cheaper option for the repair of Mount Maunganui's Mauao base track could be in motion by as early as Christmas.
Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell and the Mauao Trust have had three meetings in the last fortnight to discuss future options for the damaged track at a fraction of the previously estimated cost.
In 2017, ex-cyclone Debbie caused a 14m slip, prompting the track's partial closure and a temporary set of stairs to be constructed around it.
Yesterday, Powell was joined at the base track by about 20 others with interests in Mauao's repair. These included engineers, planners, archaeologists, council staff and representatives from Heritage New Zealand. The group discussed practical options for fixing the track - what was feasible, and what was not.
Among the options for consideration was the potential removal of two large trees believed to be about 150 years old. However, this was something still be to discussed due to the significant impact on the site's cultural heritage as a former Māori pā.
Heritage New Zealand area manager Ben Pick said the area of the slip was "a pretty exceptional site".
"It's a category one wahi tapu [sacred place] ... because it has that extra level of cultural sensitivity, it makes it challenging. Heritage New Zealand has a pragmatic view and we are willing. We are trying to minimise the impact of that as much as we can. Archaeology, like heritage, is a finite resource and once it's gone, it's gone."
Tauranga City Council had previously explored repair options, coming up with an original repair cost estimate of $2.2 million to realign the track with a 350m fully accessible boardwalk along the beach.
This plan was approved by the council's elected members at the time and received resource consent but, in June, it was put on hold after elected members baulked at new cost estimates that went from $2.2m to between $5.2m and $6.8m.
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The council asked staff to look at other solutions. As of July, the council has spent more than $661,000 on investigations, including for the original plan.
The Mauao base track has close to two million people walk it every year and its repair was a priority for the new mayor.
Powell said he and the trust had come up with options at a cost "significantly less" than council estimates.
Powell was determined to get cheaper and faster results, but said he was unable to speculate on a price, yet. But he was confident an action plan would be in play within the next month.
"I will be surprised if we don't have a plan before Christmas."
Powell said the slip had been "heavily politicised" in the past and that was what had blown the situation out of proportion.
Powell said his understanding was previous councillors had not visited the slip site or appropriately consulted with iwi.
Yesterday's gathering was part of setting the groundwork for a practical remedy, he said.
"It's bringing people together who should have been talking a long time ago."
Buddy Mikaere from the Mauao Trust was part of the group that investigated the slip. He said it looked "quite simple" to fix.
He said the way the group planned to cut costs was to move away from the shoreline pathway idea. The idea of a bridge had been tossed around.
Mikaere did not expect it would be done by Christmas, but possibly some time in the summer.
Council general manager of community services Gareth Wallis said there had been several meetings of various interested parties but to the best of his knowledge, yesterday's was the first that included everyone involved. He echoed Powell's thoughts regarding the importance of including everyone.
"In driving this project forward, we needed to have the same sectors at the same time. We want to get to a happy place. Hopefully where everyone is on the same page."
The only way to get cheaper and faster results was to do this, he said.
When Tauranga City Council was asked about the previous council not visiting the site and why previous price projections were so high, a spokeswoman said the questions were not ones staff could answer.
Mauao's base track
April 2017: Track damaged and partially closed after a slip during ex-Cyclone Debbie
June 2017: Tonkin and Taylor presented five remediation options, the council chose one to progress and allocated $2.2m funding.
July 2017: Stairs open over the slip site as a temporary measure, full loop reopens.
July 2018: Council submits resource consent application for permanent boardwalk
June 2019: New cost estimates presented to council.
October 2019: Some Tauranga elected members are voted out as local body election results are revealed.
November 2019: New mayor Tenby Powell proposed a cheaper and faster solution by bringing vested parties together to assess the scene.