A long-mothballed plan to build breakwaters around Paihia and restore an eroded beach is set to go ahead after the Government granted an $8 million cash injection.
Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones made the announcement at Zane Grey's Restaurant in Paihia yesterday. And at the same time he delivered a message to tourism operators - forget about the borders opening to foreign visitors any time soon.
With tourism taking a dive due to border restrictions, the Bay of Islands needed backing to boost its economy and get people working.
''This construction project will put money in the pockets of local businesses and create up to 60 jobs. It will also set up the town and the wider region as a must-visit destination for domestic tourists as we wait for international tourism to return," Jones said.
The funding will come from the $3 billion set aside for shovel-ready projects in the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund announced in Budget 2020.
The project, led by council-owned company Far North Holdings, will restore what used to be Paihia's main beach and construct breakwaters to protect the wharf, road and businesses from wild weather.
It may also include reclamation, tidal steps, dredging and a promenade for walking and cycling.
The project has a long and controversial history stretching back to the 1990s. When first announced in 2006 it had a $20m pricetag and included 620m of breakwater and a 4000sq m reclamation.
It was based on surveys which found restoring Horotutu Beach between Nihonui Pt (the Bluff) and the wharf was at the top of the public's wishlist. It was Paihia's most popular beach in the 1950s and 60s but has all but disappeared in the past 50 years.
The most controversial element of the plan was the breakwaters, which were originally designed to be connected to Motu Maire and Kuia Rongouru islands.
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Iwi took the matter to the Environment Court, concerned that the breakwaters could affect marine life and encourage more people to kayak to Motu Maire, a wāhi tapu.
Objectors included the late kuia and environmental campaigner Emma Gibbs-Smith.
The plans were altered and the consent was finally granted in 2010.
The redesigned breakwaters are shorter and don't join up with the islands, allowing more freedom of movement for marine life while still protecting the waterfront from storms.
The project was, however, mothballed late in 2010 due to the impact of the global financial crisis.
The Far North District Council has earmarked an extra $5.3m to the project to pay for a new waterfront recreational area and restoring Horotutu Beach.
Ngāti Rahiri/Ngāti Kawa spokesman Isaiah Apiata said infrastructure was needed, also to halt erosion, and changes to the breakwater design had allayed some hapū concerns.
''But there are still concerns, more than ever, and more conversations are needed. We will work with Far North Holdings, as equals, and hold them to account.''
Apiata wanted to see the significance of sacred sites such as Motu Maire acknowledged, for example with carved pou.
Jones urged Far North Holdings to use local contractors as much as possible, ''to drag a few of my nephs off the couch ... so the whole community has an opportunity to learn and to prosper''.
He also had a sobering message for tourism operators, warning them it would a long time before borders fully reopened.
Anyone who doubted the economic impact of a second Covid-19 wave only need look across the Tasman, he said.
Far North Holdings general manager Chris Galbraith said one of the criticisms of Paihia as a tourism hub was the quality of its infrastructure, not helped by storms damaging the wharf, roads and beaches since the 1980s.
It would be up to the community to decide which parts of the already consented plan would be built, though the breakwater was an integral part.
The company would hold the first of a series of public meetings in about two weeks' time.
If the beach is reinstated Far North Holdings will use 25,000cu m of material dredged from the area enclosed by the breakwater, topped with 20,000cu m of fine sand from Pahi.
The project is expected to take up to 18 months.
Wharves at Paihia, Russell and Ōpua have already been upgraded with earlier PGF funding.