Hancock Forest Management has gone back to the drawing board for a new look at a proposed crossing of the Mangakahia River to carry heavy machinery to harvest a pine plantation at Pakotai, 48km northwest of Whangarei.
The company is redesigning the crossing after Te Uriroroi, Te Parawhau and Te Mahurehure hapu objected to its construction during a meeting between Hancock, hapu representatives, the Northland Regional Council (NRC) and locals on Te Tarai o Rahiri Marae at Pakotai three months ago.
The 125ha of pines to be harvested are in a 256ha block with steep slopes on the eastern side of the Mangakahia River near its junction with the Opouteke River just north of the Pakotai settlement.
The forest was established in the 1980s after a former farmer in the area, Graham Robinson, sold the land to NZ Forest Products. It is now managed by Hancock for owner Taumata Plantations Ltd, which Companies Office records show was registered in 2006 with two directors having New Zealand addresses and nine others from Australia and the United States.
The NRC in January this year issued Taumata Plantations with a resource consent for earthworks and roading associated with the harvesting, but not for the river crossing, which Hancock environmental forester Tony Dwane told the meeting was a permitted activity under section 29 of the Water and Soil Plan for Northland.
However, NRC group manager regulatory services Colin Dall this week told The Country that, although the river crossing could be installed as a permitted activity under the current Regional Water and Soil Plan for Northland, the Proposed Regional Plan, notified on September 6, has new permitted activity criteria for culvert river crossings that limit the contributing catchment area.
"Hancock's proposed culvert crossing cannot meet these criteria so a resource consent is required for the crossing."
Also, Mr Dall said the recently passed National Environmental Standard (NES) for Plantation Forestry, which comes into effect on May 1 next year, has permitted activity criteria for culverts which the proposed Hancock river crossing could not meet.
"Therefore a consent would also be required for the culvert under the NES for Plantation Forestry."
The culvert crossing proposed by Hancock at the marae meeting consisted of seven precast concrete sections, similar in appearance to those used for cattle underpasses on roads, placed side by side on the river bed so water flowed through them.
Hancock engineer Geoff Gover said about 2000 truck movements over the structure were expected during the harvest.
Hapu representative Millan Ruka said the crossing would be better described as a "bridge" rather than a "culvert".
"We find it culturally insensitive and poor planning to have this bridge interfere with the wairua of our shared Mangakahia River," he said.
"Hapu katoa have aspirations for waka to hikoi te awa Mangakahia. We all share this river and are duty bound to collectively kaitiaki te awa for its mauri, its tuna, its mahinga kai and all living creatures in it."
Mr Ruka suggested using a helicopter or a fly-wire to carry logs across the river as the proposed crossing was clearly an impediment in the water. He directs Environmental River Patrol Aotearoa which in the past had recorded more than 30 impassable log jams on the river between the proposed crossing site and the Titoki Bridge.
Mr Ruka predicted logs and debris would jam in the crossing and dam the river to at least the height of the structure, causing surface flooding on farms.
Greig Alexander, who now owns the former Robinson farm and another award-winning dairy farm by the river south of Pakotai, has been reported as saying it takes hundreds of man and machine hours to repair farm fences and remove pine logs and other debris from paddocks after every flood.
During the marae meeting he suggested Hancock should investigate widening the centre span of the crossing to reduce its impact.
Hapu representative Sharon Kaipo sought assurances Te Mata Pa site and other wahi tapu in the forest would not be damaged during the planned harvest.
As land in the area and the Mangakahia River are under Treaty of Waitangi settlement claims, hapu wanted consultation on operations in the forest.
In addition, hapu were concerned that once the harvest was completed they would have to deal with adverse effects of the crossing for decades.
Hancock Northland regional manager Andrew Widdowson this week told The Country the marae meeting had been very constructive.
"The concept plans we presented were a good starting point for discussion and we welcomed the hapu's input into the process and feedback on environmental and cultural considerations.
"As a consequence we have instructed the designers to produce a new set of plans for the design of the crossing which takes into account the points they have raised. We said to the local hapu that we would go back to them with revised plans once they are complete and we will."
Mr Widdowson said NRC councillors Rick Stolwerk and Justin Blaikie would be invited to the second meeting with hapu, with a date yet to be set.¦