"Put the gate back at your peril."
That's the message left on a sign to a local landowner in Mahia after a gate blocking access to a paper road was removed by frustrated locals as tensions bubble in the coastal community.
Wairoa District Council says it has now asked the Mahanga Rd landowner, forestry company PF Olsen, to find an alternative gate site which doesn't block locals' legal access to the paper road.
PF Olsen has not responded to Hawke's Bay Today requests for comment about the sign.
According to locals, the road near Te Au Forest was closed to vehicles after Cyclone Bola in 1988, but has been frequented by walkers and bikes since.
So when the gate went up recently, it sparked immediate backlash.
When the gate was removed a letter allegedly written on behalf of the Mahia community was transcribed on to the back of a PF Olsen sign.
The message warned PF Olsen to "put the gates back at your peril" and said the pathways, known as "the Mahanga way", had been used by their ancestors for centuries.
It said the locals intended for the walkway to remain public and lashed out at PF Olsen for its forestry operations in the once-traditional farming area.
"The community has discussed the gate and we decided to remove it ourselves," it said.
Wairoa mayor Craig Little said Wairoa District Council had asked PF Olsen to not put the gate back, but encouraged the forestry services supplier and locals to resolve the issue themselves.
Little said the gate was in a regulations "grey area".
Wairoa District Council's chief executive Kitea Tipuna said there were "hundreds of kilometres of paper roads and unmaintained public roads throughout the Wairoa district".
"While many of these roads are not accessed by members of the public and appear to be on private property, the public are legally entitled to access these roads.
"Gates are allowed to be put on council-owned roads if approved through the Corridor Access system.
"There is no record of a gate at this location being applied for via the Corridor Access permit system."
Tipuna said in this case the council understood the gate was not on the paper road, but its placement was preventing access to the paper road.
"Council acknowledges the concerns of the community and the need to maintain accessibility, particularly for emergency purposes."
Council had asked PF Olsen to remove the sign and suggested alternative gate sites which would not block access to the paper road, Tipuna said.
"We look forward to working in partnership to resolve this issue."
Little said the sign was likely written in anger and frustration by the local community, who were not told about the installation of the gate.
"I don't think it's threatening," he said. "But I would hope PF Olsen can work with the public to resolve it."