Hicks Bay's greatest export for many years has been its youth, heading out of the picturesque East Cape backwater to look for work.

So the rejection of a Ngāti Porou plan for a feasibility study on establishing a port to export logs is, at first glance, confounding.

The iwi has applied to the government's Provincial Growth Fund to pay for a study into the costs, benefits and opportunities of building a port at Hicks Bay.

But the local Ngāti Porou hapu - based at the Hinemaurea Marae ki Wharekahika - was adamant it didn't want a port.

Wharekahika Maori Committee secretary Ani Pahuru-Huriwai said the greatest fear was pollution.

Advertisement

"We are a long way from anywhere – three hours from Gisborne where the nearest supermarket is - so many of our families here rely on the sea to sustain them daily," she said.

"Our fear is that a port and all of the industry that brings with it - most of which would be logging - will poison our seafood stocks.

"We have seen other examples around the world where that has happened. And we have no confidence that the industry will look after the environment and keep it as pristine as it is now."

Business interests see the forests for the trees while residents of Hicks Bay see a threat. Photo / Alan Gibson
Business interests see the forests for the trees while residents of Hicks Bay see a threat. Photo / Alan Gibson

The tyranny of distance is driving the port proposal. Ngāti Porou wants to unlock the economic potential of forestry for its northern reaches.

Hawke's Bay forester Chris Perley said it was sometimes uneconomic to harvest forests more than 120km from a port.

"If you are a forest grower that relies upon cheap transport costs and harvesting cost, then going somewhere close is the best way."

Forestry is more viable than farming on the East Coast's steep terrain, where fragile soils are easily eroded. But it also added extra challenges when moving the logs to the nearest port in Gisborne, Ikaroa-Rāwhiti MP Meka Whaitiri said.

"When I talk to the young people from the colleges up there, they have to leave the coast if they want to look for jobs. Some of them actually want to stay, and will stay, if there are those job opportunities," she said.

"If we are to bring economic opportunities that are sustainable to the coast then we must open the way we move people and goods off the coast.

Advertisement
It would be a bold government that carries on without the locals on board

"It is also something that investors are telling me," Whaitiri said. "They won't come to the coast unless they can get the produce off in a timely manner.

"If there is a major flood or major weather bomb then that puts a risk of produce not getting out and therefore they are not keen to invest on the East Coast."

Ngāti Porou chief executive Herewini Te Koha said the iwi would be loathe to press ahead with the port proposal where locals were opposed, but wanted any decision to be informed, hence the study.

The Government also said it wouldn't proceed without local support, despite the potential for positive economic impact.

"It would be a bold government that carries on without the locals on board," Whaitiri said.

"We would just encourage all the major stakeholders to get around the table and make that decision for themselves and the Government will work with the decision they come out with."

Perley said a port could enable a range of possibilities.

"Once you've got a port, you start to do pre-processing and various things like that. So enterprise can cluster around the port," Perley said.

"In the days of economies of location, where transport costs dictated that it was a Model T Ford going to Gisborne, they had these ports up there.

"They had local processing and they had local supply out of Tolaga Bay and Tokomaru Bay. So that was the history of the coast.

"And then comes the late 50s - the roads got better, trucks etc so they started using the road.

"Who is to say that we couldn't move back into some sort of situation where there is a decentralised attitude towards either processing or exporting through ports?"

The lure of logs will encourage Ngāti Porou to seek other ways to harvest the benefits of the so-called wall of wood. Photo / Warren Buckland
The lure of logs will encourage Ngāti Porou to seek other ways to harvest the benefits of the so-called wall of wood. Photo / Warren Buckland

While Hicks Bay locals were unwilling to even consider a port, it may not spell the end of the matter. Other nearby communities were reportedly preparing their own scoping study applications for government, to keep whānau from economic exile.

Made with funding from