Beachfront owners and longtime beach advocates are slamming Thames-Coromandel District Council for what they're calling a no-say plan to drive a boardwalk on regenerating dunes at Whangamatā Beach.
Keith Gosling is preparing for legal action after he found out about the plan for a lit, shared cycling-walking timber path from a friend, Taff Kennings, who lives a few doors down.
"It's disgraceful," says Keith, who's owned his home on beach access 7 overlooking the ocean for over 30 years.
"Everybody has been conditioned to protect the dunes and stay on the accessways. What this is doing is the complete opposite to that.
"It's just fortunate that somebody thought to send me a copy [of the plans]. But what's the use of informing somebody when they've already made a decision?"
Keith says TCDC sent a letter on 20 December which he hasn't seen, since it went to his Auckland home "and I'll be here until March".
He says he believes the process was "underhand".
"If they were honest and open about it, they wouldn't get anywhere.
"Nobody I know that lives in Whangamatā - not only those who live on the beachfront - think it's a good idea when there's already accesses all along the beach to protect the sand dunes."
The works do not require resource consent according to TCDC, and fall outside the Council's Reserve Management Programme since the boardwalk is Marginal Strip managed by DoC.
Promoted as a shared pathway for cyclists and walkers, it will link Hunt Rd through the Esplanade and Williamson Park.
The project is priced at $474,000 with $295,000 this year and $179,000 being spent next year.
Council wants feedback on two different routes on the dunes, with a public drop-in session between 10am-noon on Monday 27 January at the Whangamatā Service Centre, 620 Port Rd.
Option one is "encouraging people through the crest of the dune system", and option two follows the existing sandy path.
"We also want to hear what you think about the proposed re-alignment of the beach accessways along the Esplanade and any other comments in general about the design," the Council press release states.
There will be new seating, landscaping and "subtle lighting along the Esplanade" as part of the plan.
Ross Ashby, TCDC infrastructure project manager, says similar boardwalks had been built using hand tools and small vehicles such as bobcats and mini diggers but the machinery to be used had not been decided.
"It is likely that most of the work on the dunes would use hand-held tools. The works along the Esplanade, however, may require a bobcat for dune reshaping."
He says the project was included in the 2018-2028 Long Term Plan and had been advertised through various channels.
"All LTP promotional material directed people to 'major projects happening in the Whangamata area' on pages 25 and 26 (available on the TCDC website).
"A more targeted handout was made available to community groups and at council offices for the public which featured 'proposed projects in the Whangamatā community board area'."
There was a well-attended public meeting on Saturday 17 March 2018, he said.
Whangamatā Community Board chairman Ken Coulam says the walkways were aimed at improving beach access points along the esplanade "to reduce erosion issues and wind-blown sand".
Original Whangamatā surfer Taff Kennings is among those who say the accessways do that already.
"I was shocked. I thought we were well down the track of the policy that we should 'leave the dunes alone'. Instead they're going to have to bulldoze them and replant them all over again, and we've just got them looking good."
Taff has been on the beach "just about every day" since he moved here.
"I know it inside out."
He is able to pinpoint numerous occasions and locations where infrastructure on the dune environment was destroyed by storms.
"I've seen the destruction of anything built in the sand dunes over the last 44 years, and it's now even more important. If it can happen 20-30 years ao, it will happen again. Why would you want to build on it?"
Mr Coulam says the community board prioritised budget for the first stage of the walkway from Mooloo Cres to the Whangamatā Surf Club "to make the project affordable to ratepayers".
"This will be a real asset to the waterfront as well as providing opportunities to reduce our impact on our precious dune environment and provide a staged dune planting programme."
TCDC Councillor Gary Gotlieb says he heard of the plan just before Christmas and asked questions about its notification on 18 December. On 20 December TCDC sent letters to residents whose properties front the dunes.
"I don't know where these ideas come from. There are far more pressing things in Whangamatā..."
He says it highlighted the need for more open meetings.
"I'm used to openness for people and not just having workshops instead of open meetings. I've raised it that we have council meetings broadcast online so that people can view what's being discussed.
"I think the public would like to know what's happening."