A boardwalk at Whangamatā Beach has been halted as council staff are
sent back to determine who owns the dunes on which the controversial project was to be built.
Critics of the boardwalk on regenerating dunes were concerned at dune damage, impacts on endangered dotterels, coastal inundation, cost and lack of consultation with adjoining landowners.
They are not surprised the Whangamatā Community Board last week called a stop to the infrastructure for now.
Thames-Coromandel District Council previously maintained no resource consent was required.
TCDC's district plan provided for the walkway as a permitted activity and therefore an EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) was also not a legislative requirement, it said.
"It wasn't their land to do it on," long-time Whangamatā resident Taff Kennings said.
"They're backtracking. They tried to push it through without the permits or proper consultation so there was a lot of issues with it."
Whangamatā Dunes Incorporated engaged legal counsel over the proposal which had been advertised but, until December, had not had a targeted letter drop or discussions with adjoining residents.
Its members say legal challenges could have been avoided: "If the council had properly approached such a contentious environmental and public use project through an informed notified resource consent."
The council says it received 410 formal submissions from the consultation, 60 per cent of which were in support.
However, consultation asked only whether the boardwalk should follow an existing informal path on the dunes or bring people into the crest of the dunes.
"There wasn't even an against option in the feedback form," Kennings said.
Barrister Michael Black, for Whangamatā Dunes Incorporated, said any conclusions based on the public feedback were therefore flawed. From the submissions of adjoining residents, 77 per cent were definitely opposed.
The board is recommending to the council:
• Construction of the boardwalk is halted until the outcome of the resource consent and concession process under the Conservation Act are determined.
• That a carry forward of the already-rated-for and unspent budget for this financial year ($295,000) is retained through to the following financial year to complete the esplanade section of the project.
• That the dune section of the project and remaining budget ($179,000) be put on hold until the outcome of the Annual Plan process so the board can consider the overall rating impact to local ratepayers given the potential economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
• Staff to progress discussions with the Department of Conservation (DoC) in favour of a control and management agreement of the Marginal Strip land which the boardwalk is planned to be constructed on.
• To engage further with adjoining residents, iwi and DoC as part of the detailed design process and to provide clarity around the land ownership.
In a previous response to questions on consents, TCDC infrastructure project manager Ross Ashby told the Coastal News in January: "Given the scale and nature of the work, and the positive outcomes for the dune system in the long run, resource consents for both TCDC and WRC are not required.
"The design and alignment has been guided by coastal scientist and ecologist Jim Dahm, and we are also talking to the Department of Conservation."
South Eastern Ward Councillor Gary Gotlieb said he believed the $474,000 budget was never realistic given the opposition from numerous residents.
"Once the public became aware there was huge fury and the whole legal implications hadn't been looked at [meaning] the costings were completely wrong."
The board supported a 10m trial boardwalk to be installed at a beach access along the esplanade.
"We want to make it clear that we're not going near the dunes at this stage, just along the esplanade," board chairman Ken Coulam said.