Locals, iwi and elected officials are furious that a company heading a sand mining operation off the Pakiri coastline, which gouged almost 3-metre deep trenches in the sea floor and allegedly committed multiple resource consent breaches, wants to renew its 20-year consent.
Auckland's Kaipara Ltd is seeking to renew its consent with Auckland Council, which enabled the mining of 2 million cubic metres of sand from a roughly 640 square kilometre area 2km from shore until 2023. A hearing will take place from Wednesday in Warkworth to judge the renewal.
Kaipara Ltd owns the consent, but the mining is done by McCallum Bros Ltd - a supplier of Auckland's concrete manufacturers, which also owns and operates a consent to mine closer to shore.
However, evidence of significant ecological disturbance and multiple consent breaches have forced a Auckland Council review days ahead of the hearing.
Evidence includes several kilometres-long, 20m wide trenches in the sea floor, repeated mining outside its legal boundaries and ineffective monitoring of the operation's environmental impact.
Kaipara Ltd managing director Steven Riddell would not comment on any of the evidence, but advised reviewing publicly available documents submitted by Kaipara Ltd.
In his submitted evidence, Riddell said the trenches - what he called swales - were not evident when the company did its last relevant survey in August, 2018. In the same statement, Riddell said any evidence of mining outside the consented boundary was for McCallum Bros to address, but it was his understanding such claims were incorrect.
A McCallum Bros spokesperson said as the consent and its renewal was managed by Kaipara Ltd, they could not comment on Kaipara Ltd's behalf. The spokesperson said McCallum Bros took a "great deal of care" to ensure sand was extracted from permitted areas at approved volumes.
In an additional report from Auckland Council prepared for next week's hearing, the council acknowledged there was evidence of consent breaches and ineffective monitoring.
The council also acknowledged the existence of sea floor trenches, but considered this of "low relevance".
Council compliance monitoring manager Amanda De Jong said there would be further investigation into any non-compliance and sea floor trenches. However, she said evidence provided by Kaipara Ltd claimed mining had been done as per consent conditions.
Much of the evidence was collected by former Pakiri resident Damon Clapshaw. As mining often takes place overnight, the England-based Clapshaw was able to track the mining vessel for three years through MarineTraffic.com.
He found evidence that claimed McCallum Bros regularly mined too close to shore and above the Auckland/Northland boundary. Evidence submitted to the hearing outlined how some form of consent breach was allegedly committed every mining outing on average.
Clapshaw also found McCallum Bros was only mining a 21sq km section as close as possible to the shore, representing just 3 per cent of its permitted area.
Such focused mining of a small area is believed to have created the trenches, which were not found by consent-mandated studies but by the Friends of Pakiri Beach (FOPB) community group when it commissioned a sea floor survey.
"I feel very angry, but I'm just disappointed because I feel that our trust has been abused," Clapshaw said.
"It is beholden on the conscience of the operator to self-police and fulfill the moral contract they have with the public and that's why I feel angry."
Ken Rayward, of the Mangawhai Harbour Restoration Society, echoed Clapshaw's comments about the mining operation given recent efforts to maintain the Mangawhai dune ecology.
"To see the future generations of our kids coming through, potentially not being able to share in the beach life....it's unbelievable."
eCoast marine ecologist and coastal oceanographer Dr Shaw Mead provided work for Kaipara Ltd and FOPB in their public submissions.
He said the trenches in the sea floor could prevent more than half of the average annual offshore sediment transfer reaching the beach, which would likely affect its ecology.
"Everybody's concerned about the Hauraki Gulf, whether it's dying a death by a thousand cuts and these are just another few cuts.
"It's quite disappointing after all the work into how [mining] could be done to try and minimise all these environmental impacts and that wasn't really going on."
Mead questioned whether the environmental surveys required by the consent were adequate, which may have contributed to the trenches going undetected.
Otago University coastal geomorphologist Dr Mike Hilton said he had no reason to doubt Clapshaw's evidence, which indicated a disregard for the environment.
Describing the Pakiri coast as a "closed system" whereby lost sediment was not replenished by a natural source, Hilton said a more appropriate mining operation would reflect a farm, where "paddocks" or sections of sea floor were mined and then allowed time to recover.
Local iwi Ngāti Manuhiri - which covered much of the mined whenua - vehemently opposed all sand mining applications, according to iwi settlement trust chairman Mook Hohneck.
"We don't believe that in this day and age, it's a necessarily good environmental outcome that we're sucking sand up off the bottom of the ocean," he said.
Hohneck was "extremely disappointed" about the alleged consent breaches and said he would make his feelings known at the hearing.
Green Party environment spokesperson Eugenie Sage said it was "beyond disappointing" to learn of the alleged breaches and was saddened it took a community group to discover the mining's environmental impact.
Kaipara mayor Dr Jason Smith described the findings as a "major breach of trust" and believed Auckland Council was unaware of the alleged breaches throughout the operation.
"Are the checks and balances working right and you'd have to say on the evidence, they don't appear to be."
Auckland Council's De Jong said Kaipara Ltd had been "largely compliant' with its monitoring requirements, apart from vessel tracking data from 2004 to 2014 and the failure to arrange annual meetings with council.