Tauranga City Council is considering "commercial opportunities" for developing deadly Bay beauty spot Omanawa Falls into a safe tourist attraction - potentially with entry fees.
One councillor, however, says access to the scenic spot can never be made safe and the council should instead work to make it "impenetrable" - with electric fences if necessary.
The council is under pressure to make a decision about the future of the site, with a growing injury toll and as little as six months to start spending a $1 million Government grant or risk losing it.
Old access routes to the falls have always been officially closed but that has not stopped people - tourists and locals alike - ignoring signs and cutting through fences, as seen in thousands of social media posts showcasing the beauty of the picturesque area.
Over the past five years several people have needed rescuing - some by helicopter - after being seriously injured or becoming lost in the bush attempting to get to the falls.
In April the body of Indian student Kishore Kumar, 27, was recovered from the pool at the base of the falls, presumed drowned. A coroner has yet to rule on the case.
The council budgeted $1.9 million to improve access to the site in 2019, with the Government offering a further $1 million via the Tourism Infrastructure Fund.
This year the council bought the property at 1031 Omanawa Rd, opposite the falls entrance, to build a carpark and stop visitors parking dangerously on the roadside.
It also has concept plans to build a rock-anchored path to the base of the falls consisting of viewing platforms connected by stairs, with a controlled access at the bottom to stop people from swimming.
The council is requesting proposals from contractors for the work.
Environmental services manager Rebecca Perrett said no parking facilities would be built until the access was made safe.
Parks and recreation manager Mark Smith said developing the falls access presented a commercial lease opportunity for the council.
He said the council had "warmly received" an expression of interest from Ngati Hangarau to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding to work towards a tourist venture.
That venture could involve guides giving scenic and cultural tours to paying visitors, Smith said.
Such a venture could manage visitor numbers and ensure people did not wander off.
The Bay of Plenty Times understands a second group has also spoken to the council about its proposal to control access to the falls.
Smith said the more security measures the council put in place, the more dangerous it made the access for people who chose to ignore the warnings.
Delaying the project would risk the funding and more injuries.
"There will be more incidents. There are every summer. Somebody is very likely to get hurt," he said.
Councillor Larry Baldock said he was having second thoughts about improving the access and had become convinced there was no way to make the falls safe.
"Keeping people out of that water would be impossible. We are on a hiding to nowhere.
"The best thing to do is make it impenetrable. I find electric fences work quite well at my place ... 5000 volts going through you gives you a hell of a fright."
Omanawa Falls incidents, 2018
- February: Auckland man injured after falling at the falls, winched out by helicopter
- April: Indian student Kishore Kumar, 27, dies at falls, presumed drowned.
Resident concerned about council plan
Omanawa resident Warren Dawson said locals have "serious concerns" about Tauranga City Council's plan to open access to the "dangerous" Omanawa Falls.
Dawson, who has lived next door to the falls for 35 years, said in peak summer up to 300 people a day visited the falls, a figure predicted to double within three years.
He said the council's carpark land was not big enough to accommodate everyone on the busiest days. He was also concerned about the council's focus on the route down.
"The last three rescues have all been people getting into trouble at the base."
He doubted anything would stop people swimming or going into the falls except for an all-day, every-day security guard.
"In winter that might not be feasible or economical."
He said the council should put a hold on its plans for now and focus on keeping people away through enforcement measures such as fines or towing cars.
in the meantime, the council should meet residents and all interested parties to find a way to make it a safe, sustainable tourist attraction.
"It is a dangerous place, and it is not an easy place to manage for recreational purposes."