The controversial $16.9 million mooring dolphin extension to Auckland's Queens Wharf will not be built in time for the 2021 America's Cup and has reportedly blown out to double the cost.
The proposed dolphin is a 90m extension to Queens Wharf designed to allow mega 320m+ cruise ships to dock in Auckland.
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It had been scheduled to be constructed by late-2020 as one of six major construction projects in Auckland Transport's (AT) Downtown Programme to transform the city's waterfront for the America's Cup.
However, the mooring dolphin's consent has been challenged in the Environment Court by Ngāti Whātua and various urban design organisations who oppose its further incursion into Waitematā Harbour.
This week, a senior staffer within Auckland Council told the Herald on Sunday cost estimates on the dolphin had ballooned out to around $30m.
Yesterday, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said he was officially considering alternatives. "I have concerns around the potential cost increases for constructing the mooring dolphin and have asked officials to explore alternative options to present to the governing body," Goff told the Herald on Sunday.
"Those include exploring short-term options that would allow larger ships to dock at Queens Wharf, and a longer-term solution to allow oversized cruise ships to berth at Bledisloe Wharf."
Auckland Council has a budget of $10m for the dolphin, which covered the structure's initial estimate of $9.4m.
The cost estimate blew out by 75 per cent earlier this year to $16.9m.
Auckland Councillor Chris Darby says if the dolphin were to balloon out to $30m, council's finance committee would have to re-approve the business case for the additional $20m.
"It is way north of that $16.9m," Darby said.
"There is no case for the dolphin. We know there is no public case. The public generally are not on side for a massive 90m incursion into the harbour, and once we see updated estimates there will be no business case.
"I can tell you right now I would be highly surprised if a majority of my colleagues thought it was a good spend of the public purse to allocate $20-30m for a temporary structure that requires removal after 15 years.
"Putting the Environment Court appeal aside, I cannot see the dolphin proceeding."
However, an Auckland Council spokesperson would not clarify if there had been any new cost estimates for the dolphin on $16.9m.
"The mooring dolphin has been given an approved budget of $10m and if there is a need for further funding, this would need to go back to councillors for approval," the spokesperson said.
"We are aware that there was a discussion in May about projected costs increasing to $16.9m but this was an interim estimate."
This week, Auckland Council's director of infrastructure Barry Potter conceded it's "too late now" for the dolphin to be there for the America's Cup - with the PRADA Cup challenger series beginning in January 2021.
"Well it's still going through the consenting court process and that's how it is today," Potter said.
"Where those processes lead to we don't know. You can't pre-empt the outcome.
"I think given the timing it won't be built for America's Cup but it actually has no impact on America's Cup in any way. It's of zero impact."
The Environment Court challenge will now be heard in March 2020, and means construction on the dolphin, if it is approved, will at earliest begin after the America's Cup has wrapped up at the end of March 2021.
In the meantime, the local Auckland tourism industry is losing dozens of arrivals each year from 320m+ plus cruise ships, carrying about 4500 tourists each.
These mega ships are able to dock at Dunedin, Lyttelton, Picton, Wellington, Napier and Tauranga ports, but not Auckland where they can only anchor in the harbour.
Auckland-based cruise agent for Inchcape-McKay, Craig Harris, said only last week he declined a mega cruise ship that wanted to visit Auckland five times in 2022.
"We are the agents that book all the ships and we currently have declined a large number of ships that want to do multiple voyages berthing in Auckland," Harris said.
"This is a serious piece of tourism that we're missing out on, not only Auckland but New Zealand.
"The cruise liners are getting exceedingly frustrated because they have to plan their itineraries two years in advance. We're losing credibility."