The port company has a history of making development decision blunders. These have been brought about by an ad hoc approach to the planning of port expansion without proper alternative site or geotech and hydrographic investigation.
The first major development blunder was the ill-fated lighter unloading infrastructure where Viaduct Harbour is now. An ad hoc decision was made to construct the Lighter Basin and a number of large barges to shift cargo to and from ships anchored in the stream. The aim was to increase port capacity. Despite spending the equivalent of tens of millions of dollars in today's terms, the infrastructure was never used.
The roll-on, roll-off wharf facility was another costly port blunder. It was buried in the Fergusson container terminal reclamation within months of its completion.
The siting of the Fergusson container berth was a decision made without the proper geotech survey, resulting in a costly double blunder. The wharf was built within the geological syncline - vee-shaped folds - in the harbour bedrock, with the berth at the top. This blunder cost many extra millions of dollars because long and expensive piles through soft mud were required to be drilled down through the bedrock at the bottom of the vee to support the wharf. Expensive explosive excavation of several metres of hard rock was needed to provide enough water depth to berth the ships.
The site for the Fergusson container berth was established by a line being drawn on a plan by one of the Auckland Harbour Board's junior draughtsman. It followed a request from the board chairman for a site plan to use as the basis for a discussion by the board about the provision of container facilities. That line was where the wharf was actually built. The board decided at that meeting that it looked like an appropriate place to provide the berth and once that line had been drawn on that plan and the board had agreed, it could not be moved in spite of later proof that the site was geotechnically unsuitable.
The Bledisloe Wharf extension almost 100m out into the harbour is another similar blunder. No geotech or hydrographic surveys have been undertaken to analyse the effects of the imposition of this structure on the Waitemata Harbour's delicate hydraulic balance. I would not be surprised if a similar process to that used for Fergusson was used to establish the Bledisloe Wharf extension proposal.
The Auckland Harbour Board, which operated the port before Ports of Auckland, used to have a hydraulic model of the harbour so the effects of port development on sedimentation and tidal flows could be determinedbefore any construction or reclamation.
This essential planning tool was recklessly discarded after Ports of Auckland took over the operation of the port.
The current decision to build Bledisloe 2 only adds to the succession of costly blunders. According to Ports of Auckland's previously published plans, the wharf will be buried when Ports of Auckland executes its plan to reclaim the harbour bed between the outer extremities of B3 and Fergusson wharves, again wasting more millions of dollars of shareholders' (ratepayers') funds.
Most of the world's significant port cities have moved their commercial ports away from their city centres. That's because the effects of heavy industrial activity on the heart of a modern city are inconsistent with the commercial and residential aspirations of the people who work and live there.
We are told the activity of the port in our CBD is essential to Auckland's financial and commercial wellbeing. There has been no robust analysis of the net effects on the city of port expansion to support this statement.
The value of exports per tonne through Ports of Auckland has long been falling. Hence, it seems to be another blunder to press ahead with port expansion without taking into account the huge infrastructure costs in providing efficient rail and road access to the port.
But the biggest blunder of all would be to sacrifice our magnificent harbour for yet another short-term solution to a long-term problem. Once the harbour has been filled in it will be gone forever.
This is not the legacy that our City Fathers should be content to leave to future generations.
Kim Goldwater was resident engineer for construction of the roll-on, roll-off wharf and structural design engineer for the Fergusson container wharf, at the Auckland Harbour Board during the late 1960s and early 1970s.