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Government backs Coast port

A CONTROVERSIAL port on the East Coast is a step closer to reality.

Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones today said the Government had approved in principle an allocation of up to $45m from the Crown Infrastructure Partners infrastructure fund for the facility.

Mr Jones said it would be located at a suitable bay to increase economic activity in the region and provide more than 130 direct jobs in an area that has long been neglected.

The name of the applicant is not being revealed as the application was made on a “commercial in-confidence” basis.

But Mr Jones told The Herald there were two suitable sites for the facility — Wharekahika/Hicks Bay and Te Araroa.

When Mr Jones first voiced his support for a log barging facility at Wharekahika/Hicks Bay last year, it drew opposition from Wharekahika and Te Araroa, where a similar proposal was also put forward by a local trust.

In December, Gisborne District Council issued a statement to say Mr Jones had not discussed his proposal with the council and any log barging facility would need to align with the Tairawhiti 2050 spatial plan.

The idea was rejected for inclusion in Gisborne District Council's Tairawhiti 2050 strategy, with submissions highlighting environmental impacts, a lack of consultation and concerns over wahi tapu (sacred sites).

However, an Opus feasibility study assessing a proposal by Te Araroa-based Te Rimu Trust showed that in a worst-case scenario, over a 24-year period, there was the potential to save 100 million truck kilometres, $96.6 million in costs including $29 million in road wear, 93 serious road injuries and an estimated 16 deaths.

That was based on barging 350,000 square metres of logs in year one from a proposed barge marina proposed for the mouth of Karakatuwhero River near Te Araroa.

Mr Jones said it was a source of personal pride that Treasury and Crown Infrastructure Partners had arrived at the same opinion around the value of the coastal port concept independently of himself.

“Treasury and the IRG working group both felt that the concept was worthy of support.

“I have been encouraged by the investors and community members in the Tairawhiti community to not give up on this initiative.

“I fully appreciate that some members of the local hapu are apprehensive and don't believe that a barging facility should be created at all but there is enormous potential in landholdings — right through from Te Kaha to Ruatoria — but investment has always been hampered by poor infrastructure.

“So I'm particularly buoyed by the fact that both Treasury and CIP reference group found this initiative worthy of being pursued to the next stage.”

The final shape of and parties involved would be settled by CIP after due diligence,” said Mr Jones,

“The essential point is does Tairawhiti want development and do they want this money?

“If the answer is ‘no', then there is Auckland and a host of other communities who will take the money in a heartbeat.

“My message to the Tairawhiti is this is a tremendously large sum of money that can be dedicated to and spent on the Coast.”

While it was unlikely this project could be under way within 12 months, ministers wanted the $3 billion tagged contingency for infrastructure to support job creation in the immediate and longer-term future, he said.

“Our officials will now work with local iwi, local businesses and coastal shipping operators to develop a proposal that is economically viable and sustainable, has broad community and local and wider iwi support, and will create jobs for locals,” Mr Jones said.

“This part of New Zealand is among the most isolated and economically and socially-deprived regions in the country, and the idea to create a marine facility for moving goods by sea has been mooted many times over many years.

“The suitable bays in northern te Tairawhiti area are halfway between the ports of Tauranga and Gisborne, and creating a marine transport facility there could have significant benefits for local landowners, who are predominantly Maori.

It would also result in reduced transport costs for businesses and farmers and get more freight trucks off the roads.

“Future options for such marine infrastructure could include bulk transport of goods to the area, other export industries and possible tourism ventures.

“Jobs would be created not only in building and operating the marine infrastructure but also through local businesses supporting the increased economic activity in the area that would result.

“The scope and shape of this proposal will be managed by Crown Infrastructure Partners on behalf of the Government. Infrastructure Reference Group.

Ministers wanted to see a proposal developed that managed the interests of local stakeholders and was economically viable and sustainable, said Mr Jones.

“There are a number of options to consider with various counter-parties and further due diligence and engagement with local hapu is required before IRG Ministers proceed with the proposal.”

NEW PORT PLANS: A concept drawing of what a barg port at Te Araroa might look like. Te Araroa and Wharekahika/Hicks Bay are in the running for a new $45 million coastal shipping facility. Image supplied