An extension at the end of Queens Wharf to tie up large cruise ships has nearly doubled in cost and is being appealed by several groups deeply upset with Mayor Phil Goff's support for the controversial project.
The Weekend Herald can reveal the cost of building the 90m fixed gangway and two concrete mooring structures fixed to the seabed - known as dolphins - has blown out by 75 per cent from $9.4 million to $16.9m.
On top of that, council's development agency Panuku has spent $1.7m on professional fees for the mooring dolphins and will have to lawyer up at extra cost to defend a legal challenge to the resource consent.
Several groups opposed to the project have banded together to lodge an appeal in the Environment Court against the decision by independent commissioners last month to build the gangway and two 15m by 15m concrete dolphins.
The groups are Urban Auckland, Stop Stealing Our Harbour, Yachting & Boating Association, Parnell Community Group, Devonport Heritage, Civic Trust and the Auckland Architecture Association.
The dolphins will allow large cruise ships that currently anchor in the harbour to berth at Queens Wharf. The wharf can provide for cruise ships of up to 294m, but the dolphins will allow for ships of up to 362m.
Goff is a strong advocate for the dolphins and denied reneging on a 2016 campaign trail promise "not one more metre of the harbour should be infilled for commercial activity", saying it applied to extensions for port use, not a 15-year condition for the dolphin consent.
"It is like chalk and cheese," he said.
The mayor said he was unhappy with the increased cost for the dolphins and asked officials to see how the costs can be reduced.
Council's chief operating officer Dean Kimpton has hinted the costs could rise, saying the $16.9m figure remains an estimate and will only be confirmed once design is finalised and a price is agreed with the contractor.
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"The $9.6 million figure was an early, provisional budget estimate," Kimpton said.
Goff said the increased costs are due to moving from a single to double dolphin structure, a better understanding of wharf strengthening and changes to the gangway, saying the cost-benefit remains positive.
"I'm advised that costs will be fully recovered from the cruise ship industry, " he said.
Auckland ratepayers are becoming used to digesting bad news of blowouts on public projects with costs for the America's Cup rising by $14.5m to $113m and council having to scrape together an additional $500m for the City Rail Link.
In March, Goff was cast as a villain when hundreds of protesters at Queens Wharf and a flotilla of yachts in the Waitemata Harbour attended a rally against the 90m extension. Among the banners were "Don't Phil our harbour with concrete" and "Stuff Phil Goff, vote him off".
Architect Julie Stout, who led Urban Auckland's successful court victory against two wharf extensions by Ports of Auckland in 2015, said the groups taking the latest legal action against more harbour infill were disappointed with the mayor.
"The mayor is the one person who should have a long-term vision for the waterfront that allows people, the cruise industry, ferries and the port access rather than a short-term solution," she said.
Stout said the dolphins would only be used three, four or possibly five times a year for six hours at a time, saying Ports of Auckland could apply its management skills to berth large cruise ships at Bledisloe Wharf.
When asked about the possibility of using Bledisloe for large cruise ships, a Ports of Auckland spokesman said the Bledisloe berth is only 265m long.
"No matter how good your management skills, it is not possible to berth a 360m ship on a 265m wharf," he said.
Stout's views are shared by North Shore councillor and planning committee chairman Chris Darby who said it was time to come up with an enduring solution for large cruise ships to use port facilities at Captain Cook or Bledisloe wharves.
He said council used a spurious argument in support of the 90m extension that cruise ships are all getting bigger when most new ships are getting smaller.
Auckland is going for gigantic "cattle-class cities at sea" over smaller and higher-value luxury ships, Darby said.