A multi-million-dollar electricity project straddling properties in the Far North has already attracted more than $100,000 in compensation payments to owners of Maori land.
The Maori Land Court has ordered lines operator Top Energy to pay $105,000 for easement on four blocks of multiple-owned Maori land on which a 110,000-volt electricity transmission line and power pylons from Kaikohe to Kaitaia will run to improve consistency of power supply in the Far North.
Top Energy applied to the court for easements over the blocks, known as Whakataha Z1C, Paparimurimu B, Paparimurimu A3, and Part Tapapanui B4D2.
Trustees administer Whakataha Z1C while the other three blocks do not have any governance structures in place. As per the court order, Whakataha Z1C will receive $65,000, Part Tapapanui B4D2 $18,500, Paparimurimu B $10,500, and Paparimurimu A3 $6500.
The lines company tried to consult with the trustees and owners but only a limited number of them engaged with the proposal. However, no owners who did engage in the consultation opposed the applications for easement.
The primary issue for the court to decide was whether it was appropriate to grant easements in light of the level of owner participation and support.
Top Energy lawyer Graeme Mathias said the company endeavoured to avoid Maori land wherever possible but could not do so with the four blocks of land without creating greater adverse impacts, particularly on the marae south of Whakataha Rd.
He said the easements could benefit Maori landowners as the compensation could be used to develop their land. In addition Top Energy was prepared to make additional payments to promote the establishment of ahu whenua trusts on the land.
Judge David Ambler said the easements would not be detrimental to the landowners' use of their land. Top Energy has not ruled out further compensation payout to owners of Maori and non-Maori land in future.
"It does appear at this stage that there is other land over which easements will have to be applied," spokesman Peter Heath said.
"We are not providing further information about these as they are still under negotiation."
He confirmed the company had paid compensation to other landowners but would not go into details, saying they were confidential.
Top Energy property manager Allan Burdett said negotiations with affected landowners along the proposed route were progressing well.
"We provide landowners with our preference and work with them to agree a workable solution, including avoidance of wahi tapu and historic sites. The land under the agreed line route is valued and full compensation is paid to the owner, who then still has access to it."
Work on the power project, part of a $200 million network investment and expansion programme, started three years ago.
Stage one of the new line, an 8km section from Kaikohe to Hariru Road, and a further 12km stretch as part of stage two, a 12km stretch to the new Top Energy sub-station at Wiroa, were completed and commissioned this year as planned.
The entire project is scheduled for completion in 2026.