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Barging facility back on agenda

Editorial

News at the weekend that the remaining $45 million allocated to this region from the Government's Covid Recovery infrastructure fund is attached to a project as controversial as an East Coast log barging proposal was disappointing, in that the risk is reasonably high that it will come to nothing.

It was fascinating, also, that such a clearly non-shovel-ready proposal would emerge through this non-transparent process with such a large endorsement from the Government — especially a coalition one whose constituent parties all pledged to reopen our rail line in the lead-up to the last election and now, five weeks out from the next, commits in principle to a coastal shipping solution for this region's transport challenges.

But here we are, with Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones leading the push for this proposal again in his own inimitable way, backed now by Treasury and Crown Infrastructure Partners on its potential value . . . while from the Tairawhiti side we have both Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou and Gisborne District Council saying earlier proposals had not been supported by hapu and the local community, and they support those wishes (with the runanganui acknowledging “the Government's intention to work with iwi and engage with local hapu on this proposal”).

From the Government's perspective, the gains would come in brighter economic prospects for the East Coast through cutting the costs that local landowners face in getting their logs and other commodities to market, significant job creation, reduced roading costs from taking heavy-freight pressure off the southern half of State Highway 35 (and Gisborne City), and reduced transport emissions.

These are major potential regional gains, too, so it is important that our community leaders engage in the process Mr Jones outlines today with open minds . . . well, everyone apart from our deputy mayor who has made his thoughts on the proposal and its key public promoter known.

Continuing strong opposition from the ahi kaa would of course make it difficult to see this project going ahead, but a full discussion around options and potential mitigations could lead to a change in views. Mr Jones also told The Herald yesterday that there were “several options” for where such a facility could go; the original government press release said suitable bays in the northern Tairawhiti were all halfway between the ports of Gisborne and Tauranga.

This idea, which has been discussed for several decades, is back on the region's agenda.