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Log levy still in the mix

CLAIMS that a levy on all logs brought to the port of Gisborne would not work failed to convince the District Council’s Future Tairawhiti Committee yesterday. The idea will be investigated.

The levy was one option staff proposed in a report on roading funding, seen as a possible way to fund the $25 million expected to be needed for log extraction over district roads in the next 10 years.

Pat Seymour said not enough thought had gone into the levy option and it was simply not going to work.

“A levy over the port is not going to capture all the timber that grows in our forests.

“It is not going to capture the timber that goes to Juken, for example. Are you going to whizz out there to capture their wood at their weighbridge?”

It did not capture the timber from the top of the Coast that might go to Opotiki, and if they had driven on that road they would see trucks going around to the Bay of Plenty.

Nor was it going to capture trees on a longer rotation that might be in the ground for 60 years.

“There is a whole pile of issues around it. While it is a fine suggestion, I don’t think the broader issues around it have been truly thought through,” Ms Seymour said.

The council might need to review its roading differential system but it should be remembered that a lot of work had already been done on that, she said.

The council had gone to a multiplier system in setting its differentials because trees were not valued and, when the council shifted from land value to capital value, the trees were not captured. The council discussed it with the forestry industry and while they were not thrilled, some transparency was reached.

She did not support the levy option.

“From my limited knowledge, I cannot see how that is going to work,” she said.

InvestigationRehette Stoltz said the whole paper before the council was about investigation. She totally supported investigating the levy option.

Shannon Dowsing said it was the only way to address the smaller holdings. At the moment, the council’s multipliers were capturing only 50 percent of the forestry in the region.

Amber Dunn said she acknowledged the economic importance of forestry but wanted to put it into context. The council’s 2013 economic report said forestry contributed $280 million, pastoral farming contributed $550m and was now about $650m, and horticulture $300m which was rising, and the road network was needed for them.

Loadings on roads were the key factor and she thought the weight-based charging option in the report was best.

“It's the fairest. It will pick up all of the trucks on the road, not just forestry,” she said. If Southland could do it, so could Gisborne.

Earlier in the meeting Eastland Wood Council chairman Ian McInnes and chief executive Prue Younger stressed the importance of the forest industry to the district but did not comment directly on the levy proposal although they would have been aware of it.

Mr McInnes said log exports would probably go up to a peak of around four million for 10 to 15 years before dropping off. The industry was saying “we want to be capable of handling that sort of volume.”

Hot topicPrue Younger said the next challenge would be with the roads. It was a hot topic.

Eastland Port general manager Andrew Gaddum said Gisborne was now the second-largest log export port in the country and outlined its $80 million expansion plans over the next five years, which were announced in May.

Mayor Meng Foon said all the points made by councillors were valid but the important thing was that the council was only starting an investigation.

Meredith Akuhata-Brown said the present differential rating system did not allow for the impact of extra growth in the industry.

Graeme Thomson said the council had to remember this was about local government and roads. It was not totally about weight. This was about community issues. If they wanted to make it user-pays, they might have to look at the library and the swimming pool.

Mr Foon said all heavy traffic had paid rates, the question was whether the Government was putting enough resources back into roads to support growth in the district.

The original recommendation on the levy was changed at the instigation of Brian Wilson, to have it dealt with by the council’s finance and audit committee, together with Eastland Wood Council and Eastland Port, instead of a working group.

Mr Wilson said involving all councillors would produce a better result.

The committee adopted staff recommendations to carry out a review on the existing roading differentials and the annual general charge and, if the levy is found to be obtainable, it has approved an application for extra Government funding.

File picture by Paul Rickard