The most vociferous opponents of plans to take water from the Aupōuri aquifer to support the peninsula's burgeoning avocado industry have denied responsibility for significant vandalism at Mapua Orchard's development south of Pukenui.
Police have been called in after windbreaks were slashed and daubed with 'We Are Water' and 'Water Thieves,' irrigation pipes were cut and trees damaged.
Karyn Nikora-Kerr said We Are Water was an informal group of like-minded people who were concerned for the aquifer, but she had only heard about the vandalism via social media, and was certain it had not been carried out by a member of the group.
"It's not our style. It's not good for us and it's not good for the work we've been doing over the past two years," she said. While she "totally understood" that avocados were currently providing a lot of employment, she did not believe the industry would last long-term.
She also understood that people were feeling frustrated, and that someone might have expressed that the wrong way.
Rising tension between those who welcome the orchards for the employment they were creating, and those who fear for the future of the aquifer rose another notch when it was revealed that historic data used by the Northland Regional Council when granting water-use consents had over-stated the level of parts of the aquifer by 2.5m (Aquifer data now in doubt, December 24). The aquifer is now being re-surveyed.
Mapua general manager Ian Broadhurst said it was not the first time the orchard had been targeted.
"In the past we've sucked it up and fixed the damage, but this time they've taken it to a whole new level," he said.
The cost of replacing the damaged trees, lost production and repairing windbreaks was estimated at around $10,000.
Mr Broadhurst was particularly disappointed by the 'water thieves' claim.
"We're not thieving water.
"We've been through the whole process with the Northland Regional Council and followed the law all the way through," he said.
Meanwhile third-generation farmer Shane Blucher, who sold the 205ha property to Auckland businessman Murray Forlong in 2017, who had been labelled "a greedy" for selling, doubted that anyone from We Are Water was responsible, "but they have stirred it up".
Mr Broadhurst said Mapua Orchard alone currently employed 40 people.
He estimated that 25 staff would be employed permanently, with 60 more in the picking season.
About 90 per cent of his staff were locals, most of them from Houhora, Te Kao and Te Hapua, some of whom had returned from overseas because they now had a chance to work.
Anyone with any information about the damage is urged to phone the police on 105, Crimestoppers on 0800 555-111, or contact their local station.