Joint statement by Kapiti Coast District Council, Greater Wellington Regional Council and the Conservation Department about vehicles in the Waikanae estuary
Territorial authorities, regional councils, the Department of Conservation (DoC), and the police all have important roles to play when taking care of the Kapiti Coast's beaches. A range of rules exist to keep people safe while they're walking on the beach and to protect important coastal ecology.
Kapiti Coast District Council's environmental standards manager Jacquie Muir said there had been some confusion within the community about where cars can and can't drive on the beach, particularly in relation to the whitebaiting season that opened on Wednesday. Ms Muir would like to clarify that council hasn't stopped issuing permits to whitebaiters along the Kapiti Coast.
"We are, however, being more transparent around other rules that now exist through the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC)'s Proposed Natural Resource Plan. We're asking whitebaiters to refer to that plan and contact GWRC about vehicle restrictions on the beach. We've recently put up more signs to help educate the community about the rules, and we've installed bollards to prevent vehicles from coming into the estuary through the Tutere St carpark. We know this will impact people differently, but it's important to protect public safety and our delicate coastal ecology."
Greater Wellington Regional Council policy development team leader Miranda Cross said, "We're very appreciative of the great work the Kapiti Coast District Council has been doing in helping us to help protect the values the community has told us are important to them. It's to protect those values that under the Proposed Natural Resources Plan private vehicles are banned from being driven on the estuary, a rule that applies to everyone.
In fact, we imposed it in 2015 to ensure we could protect cultural sights, wildlife habitat and natural features, all of which the community supported. We've refocused on it now because the formal hearing process for the Plan is coming to the end."
Ms Muir said, "Different organisations have control over different parts of the beach. Under the Resource Management Act, GWRC is the regulatory authority for our local beaches.
"Through the Local Government Act, the Kapiti Coast District Council has a bylaw which controls vehicle use on beaches. The bylaw allows police to issue infringements under the Land Transport Act to those breaking the rules. Through the Reserve Act 1977, the Department of Conservation is responsible for the Waikanae Scientific Reserve.
"Ultimately all agencies have a role to play to protect our community and sensitive sites."
Department of Conservation operations manager Kapiti Wellington district Jack Mace said the Waikanae Scientific Reserve is a unique place that needs to be protected.
"The Waikanae Estuary Scientific Reserve is a special place. Vehicles on the beach can damage shellfish beds, endanger wildlife such as nesting birds and, of course people. Under the Scientific Reserves Bylaw, it's always been illegal for vehicles to drive on the beach within the reserve. Attempting to enforce this in the past has been difficult and has led to physical threats to our rangers.
"DoC has worked alongside the councils to strengthen its stance on vehicles driving on the beach and accessing the reserve where they're not permitted. We understand that during whitebait season this might be unpopular with some people, however the wider community has made it clear that they expect us to protect the reserve. Our rangers will continue to work with the council officers and police to enforce the rules and prevent unauthorised vehicles damaging this fragile environment."
Ms Muir said further discussion with the community about these issues will be the focus of the upcoming Beach Bylaw review.
"We look forward to the review of our Beach Bylaw, with community engagement set to begin early 2019. We encourage anyone with thoughts on the bylaw to have their say."
Waikanae Beach resident and former Kapiti representative on the regional council Chris Turver responds:
KCDC and GWRC are challenged to produce scientific evidence that whitebaiters' vehicles driving on the hard sand in the tidal zone of beaches damage shellfish.
With no consultation, the KCDC has adopted part of the GWRC's Proposed Natural Resources Plan which requires motorists to get permits to drive on beaches and, in the case of Kapiti, bans them from driving alongside the meandering Waikanae river for whitebaiting on the grounds that vehicles crunch shellfish.
Whitebaiters prefer to drive on the hard sand between the high and low tide marks because it's safer and keeps them out of soft sand.
Not only is there no scientific evidence to prove shellfish damage but the Department of Conservation, which manages the scientific reserve, has produced a report called "Effects of Vehicles on Beaches" which says there is no damage.
The report, by DoC scientist Gary Stephenson, categorically states: "Vehicles impacts on the biota of the foreshore (intertidal) on sandy beaches have appeared to be minimal, at least when the vehicles use occurred during the day."
The joint statement by GWRC, DoC, and the KCDC says: "vehicles on the beach can damage shellfish beds, endanger wildlife such as nesting birds, and of course people". No evidence has been produced by the KCDC to support this sweeping statement.
Whitebaiters work within the whitebaiting regulations and in 30 years of whitebaiting in the Waikanae estuary he has never seen whitebaiters causing any harm to people, no birds or nesting sites being run over, and no crushed shellfish.
Unfortunately there are hoons in cars and on motorcycles, and uncontrolled dogs, who do career around the scientific reserve with little or no enforcement of the regulations and bylaws by DoC or the KCDC.
Whitebaiters see it all the time and find there is no point in telephoning the authorities because there is seldom a response.
Many whitebaiters believe the KCDC is using these activities as an easy way out to justify the wholesale banning of motor vehicles in the Waikanae estuary because punitive bylaws are cheaper than spending money on effective enforcement.
I'm calling for an urgent meeting of all parties to find a workable solution rather than alienate those seeking recreational pleasure including whitebaiters, land yachts, and windsurfers who use wheeled vehicles in the Waikanae estuary.