Lessons from the recent storm

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The past week has been a difficult time for the West.

A significant storm event has caused consternation to the west’s supply of power and major disruption to the day to day lives of westies.

Now that things are settling down it is time to review what happened and what needs to be done to lessen the disruption that will be caused by the next significant storm event.

Because it is clear that with climate change and particularly the increase in temperature in the waters surrounding New Zealand the frequency and intensity of these sorts of storm events are going to increase, not decrease.

First to the storm itself. Russell Brown at Public News has asked some very pertinent questions, the main one being why did a category two storm event cause the sort of damage anticipated by a category one four storm event. And the associated question is what sort of carnage would a really big storm event cause? Over the past few years I have seen a few sub tropical cyclones skirt around Auckland. What would happen if one hit the super city head on?

From Russell’s post:

If we regard last Tuesday a stress-test for infrastructure ahead of the super-storm assessed as Auckland’s main disaster risk, the city has not done well.

Indeed, we’ve likely done worse than anyone expected. Last week’s storm was not an ex-tropical cyclone, but at its worst it was said to be the equivalent of a Category 2 cyclone. According to the relevant page in the Emergency Management section of Auckland Council’s website, a Category 2 storm would be expected to bring the “risk of power failure”. A Category 3 storm would make power failure “likely”, while a Category 4 storm, with winds of 225 to 279km/h, would cause “widespread” power failure. At one point last week, 180,000 homes, representing more than half of retail electricity customers in Auckland, lost service. That seems quite “widespread”.

And so much of the power outages seemed to be concentrated out west. The coastal villages, including Piha, Karekare and Te Henga Bethells were all lacking in power for extended periods of time. Piha’s power was only restored last Saturday, thankfully ahead of the predicted time which was later this week. Te Henga Bethells is still struggling to gain power. There are still lots of pockets of households without power because of individual supply problems. Almost a week after the storm event.

Vector claimed after a couple of days that only 10% of households were still without power. My very strong impression is that many, far too many, of these households were out west.

So what do we do so that we are better prepared next time?

There has to be a big question as to the resilience of the network. In my home suburb of Titirangi houses were without power for days on end. I appreciate that the coastal villages posed extra difficulty but Titirangi should not have been that difficult a fix.

Undergrounding of power supply has to be a priority. But there does not appear to be the resources to do this.

And for the coastal villages such as Piha localised power should be given serious consideration. With enough solar panels and a wind turbine or two combined with an intelligent localised network it could become self sufficient in power and show the rest of the country how it is done. Great Barrier Island Aotea relies on solar power and generators. Maybe Piha should think about doing the same.

Vector’s information supply was frankly woeful. The phone App is a great idea but the data it was supplying did not reflect my on the ground experience. The data should be seamless. The App should be showing Vector’s synopsis of its own data. Clearly things needs to change things if this is the case.

The community response was magnificent. Local fire brigades did what they could to make sure that locals had somewhere to go to for basics such as a wash or a toilet stop. Local community groups and individuals volunteered the use of the resources that they had. Council officers volunteered their time to go door to door in some areas to check that each household was ok.

The local community facebook pages performed a good job in disseminating information. Bethells Te Henga’s Bukino Faso quality communications infrastructure needs a rethink because in times of crisis reliable communications channels are vital.

Council’s response will need to be reviewed. I had the benefit of regular information updates which I then posted on social media. But we will need to check to make sure this is sufficient.

Nearly 250 portaloos were delivered and 20,000 litres of water were also distributed to those in need. If this was enough and did it happen quickly enough will need to be considered.

Just remember this was a category two storm. It clearly shows that the region’s resilience and ability to withstand and recover from a category one four storm is lacking.

We need to review what has happened. And make sure that next time we can do better.

Auckland Council to reconsider Kauri dieback and the closure of the Waitakere Ranges

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This issue has been a bit of a roller coaster for Auckland Council and for the local board over the past few months.

A few months ago Te Kawerau A Maki declared a Rāhui over the Waitakere Ranges.  I have every respect for their rationale and for their deep abiding interest in the ongoing health of Te Wao Nui a Tiriwa, the great forest of Tiriwa.  The declaration of the Rāhui was caused by concern at Council’s ongoing delay at doing something to meet this crisis that the forest is facing.

The Local Board has spent a great deal of time on the issue and working out our position.  Our initial position was  that all tracks deemed to be high and medium risk of the further spread of the disease should be shut.  This was communicated to Council at its December 2017 meeting during the slot in the agenda allowing for local board input on the agenda..  Council sort of adopted that proposal in that although the resolution talked about closing high and medium risk tracks only some were closed.

We realised over summer that Council’s position was not working.  A trip I took to the entrances of different walks showed many people wanting to walk on the tracks.  Council’s professed support for the Rāhui was only causing confusion and the welcome signs and overflow parking areas belied an interest in keeping people away from the forest.  The only way to stop the spread of Kauri disease was a simple message, that the forest is closed.  Otherwise the situation was far too confusing for the population at large and the messages being put out by Council were far too mixed.

Staff came to the same conclusion and in February of this year a further set of proposals were put before the Environment and Community Committee.

We had the opportunity of considering the agenda item and we then reviewed the position which we reached in December 2017.  Rather than close only medium and high risk tracks we decided that the park needs to be closed and only specific areas left open.

We suggested that open areas could include coastal walks without Kauri and Watercare service roads.

We thought that there needed to be a process to determine which other tracks can be opened and when.  Te Kawarau A Maki and the community should be involved in this.  And proper enforcement of the closure is critical.

Our position was that Council needed to take a pause, review the current situation, create a long term coherent plan and determine what will provide public access and what will protect Kauri.

Council decided to do this although the wording of the resolutions and in particular the phrase “areas which would reach the requirement of a controlled area notice” still made the situation not completely clear.

The officers were required to consult with local communities, Te Kawerau A Maki and the Local Board as well as interested individuals and groups.

We were asked for our feedback.  This was as follows:

  1. The forested area of Waitakere Ranges needs to be closed and only coastal beaches, coastal walks without kauri, and service roads to be left open.
  2. This provides a clear policy direction and an unambiguous message to the public from council that the forest is closed.
  3. Once that has happened council needs to take a pause, review the current situation, and create a comprehensive long term plan for the future of the park to determine where public access can be provided and how to protect kauri.
  4. The formulation of an overall plan for the Waitakere Ranges needs to consider a range of factors beyond kauri dieback, including the impact on visitor management and experience and the overall environmental protection of the ranges.
  5. All other tracks should remain closed until this planning work is completed and they are determined to be safe. This includes the Kitekite Falls track.
  6. We are concerned that if a few tracks are kept open they will be inundated with visitors with the associated risk that the tracks will be degraded and ruined. This will make it harder to stop the spread of Kauri PTA.
  7. There needs to be a process to determine which tracks can be opened and when.  Te Kawarau A Maki needs to be closely involved in the decision making. The community should also be involved in this process.
  8. Waitakere Ranges Local Board is seeking greater involvement in the decision making concerning kauri dieback in the Waitakere Ranges.
  9. Proper enforcement of the closure is critical.

A further report has been prepared and is for consideration by the committee this week.

A further three options have been proposed for consideration.  These are essentially as follows:

Option A, which is recommended, is to close the forested areas of the Waitākere Ranges Regional Park, as publicly consulted on, including prioritised openings as tracks are upgraded.  Under this option a total of 44 tracks would be opened, including Kitekite Falls Track.

Option B is to implement a more permissive approach and in addition to the proposed exceptions to closure, also keep tracks within the coastal strip open – with rolling openings.

Option C is to implement a more conservative approach and close all forested areas of the Regional Park.

The tracks that would remain open under option A are in the following list.  An asterix means that they would still have to have surface works completed to ensure they meet the required standard.

ANAWHATA BEACH TRACK
ARATAKI NATURE TRAIL
BEVERIDGE TRACK
*BYERS TRACK
CAVE ROCK TRACK
CON BRYAN TRACK
*DREAMLANDS TRACK
EXHIBITION DRIVE WALK (Watercare)
HUIA DAM ROAD (Watercare)
IAN WELLS TRACK (Partial – Piha Road to Auxillary Dam)
KAKAMATUA BEACH WALK
KAKAMATUA INLET TRACK
KARAMATURA LOOP WALK
*KITEKITE TRACK
*KNUTZEN TRACK
LAIRD THOMPSON TRACK
LAKE WAINAMU TRACK
*LARGE KAURI WALK
LION ROCK TRACK
*LONG ROAD TRACK (Partial – from road end to where paddock meets the forest)
LOOKOUT TRACK (Arataki Visitor Centre)
MANUKAU BAR VIEW WALK
MARAWHARA WALK
MCELWAIN LOOKOUT TRACK
MCLACHLAN MONUMENT TRACK
MERCER BAY LOOP TRACK
MT DONALD MC LEAN WALK
*OMANAWANUI TRACK
*OPANUKU PIPELINE TRACK (Partial – from Mountain Road to the campground)
*ORPHEUS GRAVES WALK
PARARAHA VALLEY TRACK
PARKER TRACK
PIPELINE ROAD and part of PIPELINE TRACK (Watercare)
*PURIRI RIDGE TRACK
ROSE TRACK
SIGNAL HOUSE TRACK
SLIP TRACK
SPRAGGS MONUMENT TRACK
TASMAN LOOKOUT TRACK
TE HENGA WALKWAY (DOC)
UPPER NIHOTUPU DAM ROAD (Watercare) AND UPPER NIHOTUPU WALK
WAITAKERE DAM WALK (Watercare)
WHITE TRACK
ZIG-ZAG TRACK

My reading is that option A is a weakening of the position that we advocated for. We said close everything except those demonstrably safe then have a stocktake and work on a process to then allow for safe tracks to open. But the list of tracks being left open, including Kitekite Falls Track, suggests that the reach is much wider than we would have preferred.

I was happy with service roads and coastal tracks without Kauri being left open.  I don’t want to see everything closed.  But I think more work needs to go into the list of tracks that are to be left open or reopened.

These are my personal views only at this stage.  The local board still is to reach a final position on how we handle Tuesday’s meeting.

This issue is a really tough issue and I suspect that for as long as I remain in politics, however long that is, this will continue to be one of the most important issues requiring my attention.  But the King of Te Wao Nui a Tiriwa is threatened and all elected members owe it to do what we can to preserve it.

Chair’s report March 2018 – Glen Eden Apartments, plastic free initiatives and Holi!

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Chair’s report March 2018

The new year has been off to a frenetic part and there is a lot to report on.

Ted Manson and the Glen Eden Apartments

The ten storey Glen Eden apartments are now being constructed. Within a year or so the area will have 160 new residences, many of them social housing.

The man behind the project is Ted Manson and refreshingly he is doing this for philantrophic reasons.

He has an interesting background.  He grew up in poverty and spent a great deal of his early years living in a state house.  He then became exceptionally successful in business.

The Herald recently ran an article on him and he was quoted as saying this:

“I used to think ‘if I can come up from a state house, anyone can’ but as you get older, you start to realise life is not fair. Not everyone can do it …

I woke up one day and I got a social conscience. That happens at some stage of your life for some, but not for all.  Up until then, I was a capitalist.

Many people are enduring tough times and are under constant pressure and constraint because of hardship or misfortune. But robust, safe, warm, healthy homes which ensure security of tenure would give them the stability to contribute positively to their community and improve their quality of life.”

The opening of the apartments and the welcoming and integration of the new residents into the community will be an important job and I believe the local board has a role to play in assisting with this.  I have suggested that we meet with members of Manson’s foundation so we can discuss how to make this happen.

Housing Call to action hui

Housing call to action is a local group dedicated to improving the plight of the homeless.  The local board gives them some support and it was our pleasure to provide them with the use of the Ceramco Park Function Centre for a recent community hui.

It was well attended with over a hundred people present.  It was very informative with presentations from MSD and Housing Corporation and the highlight being a speech by Minister of Housing Phil Twyford.

Clearly addressing the housing crisis is a priority for the new Government.  And the solution is conceptually a very simple one, more houses have to be built.

As well as outlining Government policies to improve supply Twyford also talked about a change of tone and approach.  Instead of Housing Corp being essentially a property management company he is proposing a more holistic approach so that tenants needs are met.  And he also wishes to improve security of tenure so that the relentless churn of homes that some endure will lessen.

The Hui showed the importance of Government action.  But it also highlighted the importance of community and how the two sectors working together can address this most difficult of issues that Auckland faces.

Woodlands Park proposed new Watercare Water Treatment plant

Over the past few months Watercare’s team of ecologists with some independent contribution have been performing an ecological survey of the area.  The report has been completed and Watercare has publicly consulted on the results.

I thought that the consultation was too early as the construction plans have not yet been finalised and views should not be sought until all the information was out there and people can appreciate the enormity of the plant and the scale of clearance that would be required.

Some of the questions asked at the consultation were helpful.  For instance “What opportunities do you see for reusing [the existing] facility, recognising some of the newer extensions (non-heritage aspects) of the plant may be demolished?”  My personal response to this question would be “as much as possible.  The currently cleared site should be recycled as much as possible, and this includes the settlement ponds, the chemical storage area and the office space.

Another question that was asked was about the future of the Nihotupu Filter Station which is a heritage building.  This poses an interesting question, if there really is no alternative, what should be sacrificed?  High quality vegetation or the filter station?

And the recent disruption caused to the area by the resealing of Scenic Drive has already shown the susceptivity of the area to chaos caused  by public works.  The thought of the effect of the construction of a large plant over a couple of years on the area does not bear thinking about.

Watercare map showing categorisation of area’s ecology.

My personal view is that more a more detailed construction proposal needs to be consulted on.  And the consultation needs to be sufficiently sophisticated so that all options and alternatives are considered.

Council ten year draft budget

Consultation on Auckland Council’s budget for the next ten years is now open and by the time this report will be considered will be nearly over.  I would urge everyone to submit on this.

Council is proposing that for the next year there will be a general rates increase of 2.5%. Individual increases will vary according to the value of your property. If your house value has gone up slower than the regional average then you may get a decrease. I checked online what my rates will be and it suggested that for my Titirangi home I will enjoy a decrease.

It is also proposed that the transport levy be discontinued and replaced with a regional fuel tax.

I never supported the transport levy. It meant that a Piha resident who has no access to public transport would pay in effect more than Sky City whose generation of vehicle trips in Auckland is substantial.

I am a cautious supporter of the regional fuel tax although I would like to understand more fully what effect it will have on locals. Overall it is anticipated that the fuel tax will cost an average household $140 each year. The cost will be 10c per litre.  The extra money will be used for much needed transport projects.

Other proposals are important for the west.

The targeted water quality rate proposal of $66 for the average household per year would allow for the accelerated roll out of projects needed to improve Auckland’s water quality. Poor water quality is an important issue for our area. We have ten of the most polluted swimming areas in the region. In my view all our beaches and lagoons should be swimmable.

The proposed rate will fund projects to reduce wastewater overflows into the Waitemata Harbour and reduce stormwater volumes entering the Manukau Harbour. There will also be work on reducing litter and pollutant flows into the stormwater system throughout the region and a system for proactive monitoring of onsite waste water treatment systems such as septic tanks will be established.

The other important initiative is the targeted environmental rate. Three options are offered for discussion. The lowest is essentially the status quo and will mean that $109 million will be spent over the next ten years on environmental matters. The risk of Kauri dieback spreading is said to be 80% and generally significant environmental degradation will occur.

The highest option will cost the average household $47 each year and will result in a total of $420 million being spent on environmental initiatives. About a quarter of the total collected will be spent on dealing with Kauri dieback. The risk of spread is then estimated to be 25%. And more significant action regarding weeds and pests will be able to be taken.

Some westies are proposing that the increase should be even higher and set at a level that would allow for the Regional Pest Management Strategy to be implemented in full.  The extra cost would be $12 per average household per annum.

Both the targeted water quality rate and the targeted environmental rate are important for out West and I urge people to consider supporting them including the suggested enhanced environmental rate. They will address two major environmental problems that we have, poor water quality in our beaches and lagoons and the devastation of our forest by the spread of Kauri dieback.

Locally the board has prioritised improvements to Glen Eden as its priority. We also will continue to advocate for increased budgets for the Waitakere Ranges heritage area and work on completing and implementing our Greenways plan.  We are hopeful that current Council deliberations will result in the necessary funding for these important projects to go ahead.

Kauri dieback

Since the writing of my last report Auckland Council’s Environment and Community Committee have again considered the issue of what to do about Kauri dieback.

The local board presented to this meeting.

After considering the further agenda item we reviewed our position which we reached in December 2017.  Rather than close only medium and high risk tracks we decided that the park needs to be closed and only specific areas left open.

We suggested that open areas could include coastal walks without Kauri and Watercare service roads.

We thought that there needs to be a process to determine which other tracks can be opened and when.  Te Kawarau A Maki and the community should be involved in this.  And proper enforcement of the closure is critical.

Our position was that Council needed to take a pause, review the current situation, create a long term coherent plan and determine what will provide public access and what will protect Kauri.

Council is currently consulting on the resolutions passed which essentially matched our view of what should happen.  A further report is to be presented to the committee in April.

Scenic Drive upgrade

As part of regular maintenance work Scenic Drive between Titirangi and Woodlands Park is being resealed.

The work is being performed at night to minimise traffic disruption.  I am aware that this is causing many local people sleep disruption.  The contractor and Auckland Transport are willing to work with locals to do what they can.  If anyone is experiencing problems drop me a line and I will make sure Auckland Transport follows this up.

Seaweek

The infamous Mels Barton has again run a successful Seaweek series of events.  This included the annual clean up of Cornwallis beach and the sea castle competition.  Along with Deborah Russell and Steve Tollestrup I was privileged to be a judge of the competition.  The competition gave an emphasis on sustainability and there were some very good entries.  Competition was fierce with five entries being within a couple of points of each other.

It was good to see so many young people being involved and presenting on the dangers of plastic to our environment.

Laingholm Kindergarden visit

Love Titirangi who brought to the west the plastic bag free campaign that launched last year held a recent event to highlight the issues posed by plastic.  The Local Board provided them with support and it was good to see the support used so well.  The event involved young students at Laingholm Kindergarten creating posters showing why we all have to do something about our plastic use.

The involvement of young people in our community gave the event so much power.  These people have the most to lose if we continue to trash our environment and we owe it to them to start preserving what we have.  The damage that plastics are causing to our environment, particularly to our oceans, mean that we have to dramatically change our behaviour, now.

The event was attended by local MP Deborah Russell and myself as well as media.  Deborah had the job of reading a chosen story to the young citizens.  I can confidently say that this would have been much more satisfying than her average Parliamentary session!

Holi festival

One of the nicest things about living out west is the diversity of our communities.  Part of the standard speech I give to citizenship ceremonies advises new citizens that we do not expect them to forgo their culture and they should continue to be proud about their cultural heritage.  I am really pleased that people do and that we live in a community where everyone relishes the cultural diversity that we have.

Holi festival is an event where Indian culture is celebrated.  And celebrated in style.  It is to commemorate the start of the Northern Hemisphere spring and the hope of a bountiful harvest.  It is also a time where people throw coloured powder at complete strangers and squirt water at each other.

I have been to three festivals.  I have never seen so many completely happy yet completely sober westies in all my time here.  I recommend that everyone goes to the next one.

Congratulations to the Waitakere Indian Association for a fabulous festival and I look forward to the next one.

The man behind the Glen Eden apartments

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The ten storey Glen Eden apartments are now being constructed. Within a year or so the area will have 160 new residences, many of them social housing.

The man behind the project is Ted Manson and refreshingly he is doing this for philantrophic reasons. The Herald last week ran an article where he was interviewed. And some of his comments really appealed to this dyed in the wool leftie.

From Anne Gibson at the Herald:

Ted Manson once believed life was fair, everyone could succeed and most people should be able to buy their own house.

But in the past five years, he changed his mind.

The head of property company Mansons TCLM, and founder of the four-year-old philanthropic Ted Manson Foundation, spent his early years in an Auckland state house and his father, Colin, was 28 before he could afford his first car.

Life was a struggle, as Manson clearly remembers. But at 63, he is also pleased with the way his life worked out.

With his father and now his sons, he expanded what is arguably the country’s wealthiest private property development and investment business, and built his own wealth to the point where his 60th birthday party featured Lorde performing, alongside Hayley Westenra and Rhys Darby as MC.

Manson describes a type of epiphany which prompted him to take an entirely new direction.

“I used to think ‘if I can come up from a state house, anyone can’ but as you get older, you start to realise life is not fair. Not everyone can do it,” he says as he drives from the Auckland CBD to the foundation’s newest project.

It is building $160 million of Auckland social housing: a 10- and 11-level Glen Eden project; an 18-level central city tower; an Avondale block is earmarked for a $60m venture; and he has his eye on New Lynn and Papatoetoe.

“I woke up one day and I got a social conscience. That happens at some stage of your life for some, but not for all,” says Manson. “Up until then, I was a capitalist.

“The foundation’s goal is to build and provide more than 300 apartments for social housing by 2022 to help those who are struggling, so they’re able to take the next step in life for a better future.

“Many people are enduring tough times and are under constant pressure and constraint because of hardship or misfortune. But robust, safe, warm, healthy homes which ensure security of tenure would give them the stability to contribute positively to their community and improve their quality of life.”

I have concerns about the towers and post construction I believe that integration of the new residents into the community is going to be absolutely vital.  The local board has a role to play in doing its best to ensure that the integration goes as smoothly as possible.  And the ratio of social housing to private housing may not be optimal.

But no one can criticise Ted for his generosity.  And we should all do what we can to make sure the development works.

Auckland Council consulting on special rates for kauri dieback and improved water quality

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Consultation on Auckland Council’s budget for the next ten years is now open.

Auckland Council is consulting on how much it should rate and what it should spend this on over the next decade.

On the income side a general increase of 2.5% is proposed. Individual increases will vary according to the value of your property. If your house value has gone up slower than the regional average then you may get a decrease. I checked online what my rates will be and it suggested that for my Titirangi home I will enjoy a decrease.

It is proposed that the transport levy will be discontinued and replaced with a regional fuel tax.

I never supported the transport levy. It meant that a Piha resident who has no access to public transport would pay in effect more than Sky City whose generation of vehicle trips in Auckland is substantial.

I am a cautious supporter of the regional fuel tax although I would like to understand more fully what effect it will have on locals. Overall it is anticipated that the fuel tax will cost an average household $140 each year. The cost will be 10c per litre.

Other proposals are important for the west.

There is proposed a targeted water quality rate of $66 for the average household per year. The rate will allow for the accelerated roll out of projects needed to improve Auckland’s water quality. Poor water quality is an important issue for our area. We have ten of the most polluted swimming areas in the region. In my view all our beaches should be swimmable. The proposed rate will fund projects to reduce wastewater overflows into the Waitemata Harbour and reduce stormwater volumes entering the Manukau Harbour. There will also be work on reducing litter and pollutants from entering stormwater throughout the reason and a system for proactive monitoring of onsite waste water treatment systems such as septic tanks will be established.

The other important initiative is the targeted environmental rate. Three options are offered for discussion. The lowest is essentially the status quo and will mean that $109 million will be spent over the next ten years on environmental matters. The risk of Kauri dieback spreading is said to be 80% and generally significant environmental degradation will occur.

The highest option will cost the average household $47 each year and will result in a total of $420 million being spent on environmental initiatives. About a quarter of the total collected will be spent on Kauri dieback. The risk of spread is then estimated to be 25%. And more significant action regarding weeds and pests will be able to be taken.

Both the targeted water quality rate and the targeted environmental rate are important for out West and I urge people to consider supporting them. They will address two major environmental problems that we have, poor water quality in our beaches and lagoons and the devastation of our forest by the spread of Kauri dieback.

Locally the board has prioritised improvements to Glen Eden as its priority. We also will continue to advocate for increased budgets for the Waitakere Ranges heritage area and work on completing and implementing our Greenways plan.

You can submit online. But remember that submissions must be received by March 28.

Hey Stuart Nash Maui’s dolphins are approaching extinction

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Christine Rose posted in November 2017 her concerns about Minister of Fisheries Stuart Nash wanting to delay the roll out of cameras on fishing boats to monitor what they were catching.  She described the background in the following terms:

Maui and Hector’s dolphins, found only here in New Zealand, have the dubious status of being among the world’s rarest. They’re the symbol of all the bad we’re doing to the oceans. But worst of all known threats to these tiny dolphins are fishing related impacts, when they get caught and drown.

The Department of Conservation has a long list of incidents with Maui and Hector’s dolphins killed in nets, right up to the present day. Historically both recreational and commercial nets did the damage, but these days it’s mostly trawling that’s killing the dolphins. Probably only a few of the actual dead dolphins are reported, but some have washed up, eviscerated, partially weighted, in failed illicit disposal attempts. Others would never be found.

Research from the University of Auckland Business School shows that at least 2.7 times more fish was caught in the New Zealand fishery from 1950-2010, than reported. News last week focussed on penguin populations off Southland being destroyed by trawling. New Zealand Sea Lions are hanging on for dear life because of entrapment in squid nets. Seabird by-catch is untold.

Under pressure from these sorts of facts the government has planned to implement electronic video monitoring systems on the NZ fishing fleet. The National Government also promised an increase in fisheries observer coverage up to 100% in ‘core’ Maui dolphin habitat by 2017. So far, to protect these critically endangered dolphins, observer coverage is at about 18%, at the cost of reduced observer coverage elsewhere.

Electronic monitoring has been supported to achieve ‘’100%” observer coverage. This has been defended by even National Party Ministers and MPs, who have seen it would ‘rebuild trust and confidence’ in the fishing industry, and have a deterrent effect on illegal practices. On the other hand, Glen Simmons from the University of Auckland said that if the true cost of overfishing and by-catch was considered, many in the fishing fleet would be out of business, so widespread are transgressions. The fishing industry itself hasn’t been so keen on full transparency, with fishing interests calling for a ‘pause’ on the camera implementation.

She concluded by saying this:

In the absence of a comprehensive observer coverage programme; but in light of unsustainable dumping and by-catch of non-target species including endangered dolphins, sea lions, and seabirds; a culture of obfuscation in MPI; and self-regulation and capture by the fishing industry, a resolute approach from the Minister is required.

In citing fishing sector privacy and cost concerns rather than addressing the issues that would make the video monitoring more robust, Minister Nash appears to have been quickly won over by vested interests in the fishing industry. His decision to ‘pause’ the programme, echoing the words of fishing representatives, puts the industry, the enforcement regime, the dolphins, and the Government’s reputation, at risk.

I had hoped that the November decision was just a pause for the Minister to catch his breath and then proceed with a scheme which is that conservative even National agreed to it.  But there are worries that Nash is wanting to finish the scheme.  As reported by Idiot Savant Nash is considering canning the roll out of cameras, not just delaying it.

From Radio New Zealand:

The government is considering scrapping the rollout of cameras on commercial fishing vessels altogether.

Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash said many in the fishing industry were unhappy with the camera proposal and all options were on the table – including dumping it entirely.

One of Mr Nash’s first moves when he became the Fisheries Minister was to put the brakes on the rollout of electronic monitoring of the commercial fishing fleet.

The former National government came up with the plan last year, saying it would protect the sustainability of fish stocks and act as a deterrent against illegal activity, like fish dumping.

But Mr Nash said National forced it upon the sector, and he was getting advice from officials on what should be done.

“There are certainly concerns in the industry that there hasn’t been a proper process followed and a complete and utter lack of consultation.

“That does seem to be the prevailing attitude but we haven’t made any final decision on that,” he said.

Mr Nash said ditching the programme entirely was one of the options being considered.

“We could continue the project as it is, we could delay it – at the extreme we could dump it.”

There are rational voices who are worried  about how well the new system would work.  But the problem is there are probably less than 55 Mauis dolphins left. And if nothing else the deterrence effect that cameras offer will hopefully delay further deaths.  Doing nothing should not be an option.  And the status quo will mean a gradual slide to extinction.

As said by Christine Rose:

The electronic monitoring isn’t perfect. It can be turned off, obstructed or obscured. The recorded information is to be analysed by a consortium of fishing interests. There are fears that video evidence might not always be admissible in court. Refinements are needed to improve reliability, security and transparency. But it’s better than the alternative, mostly nothing. Either way, more observer coverage is essential for sustainability of fish stocks and associated ecosystems, not less.

The strange system where a Fishing Industry controlled organisation monitors the cameras needs to be reviewed.  The head company includes amongst its shareholders one of the Tally brothers, well known for his largesse to various political campaigns.  Allowing an industry to monitor itself is bound to fail.

So I think it important that the camera installation continues.  No doubt there will be problems but it will at least deter fishing boats from engaging in illegal practices.  And if this is insufficient then gill nets should be banned.  Maui’s dolphins are facing extinction and we need to do whatever we can to ensure their survival.

What does Auckland Council do now about Kauri dieback?

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There is news that Te Kawerau A Maki’s rahui on the Waitakere Ranges is having some effect but not as much as hoped.  From Jamie Morton at the Herald:

While the rahui appeared to have discouraged many visitors in the days after it was declared in early December, the findings of surveys undertaken since suggested that was no longer the case.

Although figures hadn’t been collated, vehicle counts outside the park indicated a high number of visitors this summer.

Of more than 1100 people approached by one council-employed kauri dieback ambassador in the week before Christmas, only a dozen chose to turn back because of the rahui.

Others approached this month voiced confusion over the park being open or closed, with one woman noting a sign at the entrance advising people of the rahui.

Another couple were reported as saying they knew about the rahui, but argued it was “up to the council” to close the ranges.

“We are Europeans, so we will listen and respect the final word of those who have the power to shut or leave the tracks open.”

Councillors last month considered a park-wide closure among five options, but voted to undertake targeted closures of affected tracks and areas.

Many people that I know support the Rahui.  But it is inevitable that unless further steps are taken by Auckland Council use of diseased tracks will continue and the disease will keep spreading.

Council is due to look at the issue in a couple of weeks and to make decisions on the next steps to be taken.  One of the resolutions that the Environment and Community Committee of Council passed in December was to “request staff to report to the Environment and Community Committee in February 2018 on options for stepped up track improvement and upgrades, public education, enforcement options and effectiveness, effectiveness monitoring, capital and operating costs associated with option four for consideration in the Long-term Plan 2018-28”.  It will be interesting to see what the report proposes.

One area that Council will have to address is the closure of further tracks.

The resolutions passed by Council in December were described as being a “modified option four”.  The Local Board took the position that of all of the options presented to Council option 4, the closure of all high and medium risk tracks, was the appropriate decision.  This would act to protect pristine stands and also quarantine diseased areas while allowing no or low risk tracks to remain open.

The quarantining of areas I believe is very important because it is clear from the maps that the disease is spreading like a cancer along the tracks.  It does not matter how carefully people clean their shoes, once they walk in a diseased area the disease will then be spread along the track.  Cleaning shoes does not make them immune to spreading the disease.  No kauri near a diseased track will be safe.

It was originally recommended to Council by staff that it adopts “option 3” which was the closure of 13 new tracks and the permanent decommissioning of a further 9 tracks as well as the continued temporary closure of 2 tracks.  Since the meeting a total of 42 tracks are now closed.  The recommended number in option 3 was 24.

But is it enough?  There are scores of medium and high risk tracks still open.

I recently inspected the start of a couple of tracks to see what was happening.  In Piha on Glen Esk Road there was a large number of people enjoying the walk to the nearby Kitekite falls.  The track is marked as high risk.  Nearby is the Maungaroa Ridge Track which is heavily diseased.

But the carpark was full and clearly designated overflow parking was available.

Rather than respecting the Rahui my impression is that the response to the Rahui was very underwhelming.  The least Council should be doing is taking away the welcome signs.  And it should be considering hard options such as closing carparks.

Staff say that closing tracks such as this one will not work because people will walk them anyway.  But I believe this view is misguided.  They are correct that it will not deter all humans, nothing ever does.  But by closing tracks and car parking areas a significant number will be deterred from walking.  And reduced numbers is not a matter of failure but of success.  The fewer people that walk on tracks the less likely it will be that the disease will be spread.

And the positioning of the warning signs is underwhelming.

The other aspect of the crisis that will need urgent attention is the provision of more resources.  The long term plan decisions which Council is currently consulting on will be a very important aspect of this.

A draft budget that was being worked on proposed that there be a $465 million boost to the environmental spend.  A good chunk, about $100 million of that would address kauri dieback.

Mayor Phil Goff has adjusted the figure down slightly in his Mayoral Proposal.  He suggested that over the next ten years Council spends a further $84 million on Kauri Dieback.  It was estimated that this would reduce the threat of it spreading from over 80% to about 40%.  An attempt to increase this amount further was unfortunately lost at the December Finance and Performance Committee Meeting.

The proposal will result in a significant increase in spending on Kauri Dieback and is welcome because of this.  But I would prefer the prospects of success in stopping the spread of the disease were closer to zero than 40%.

And there are signs that Central Government is preparing to play a more significant role.  From Radio New Zealand:

The government has toughened its stance on kauri dieback, announcing moves that would force people going into affected areas to comply with any restrictions.

Councils can ask visitors to take measures like disinfecting their boots or staying away from tracks, but cannot make it compulsory.

The Ministry for Primary industries said it would work to put formal controls in place.

It would also start a National Pest Management strategy, giving kauri dieback the sort of biosecurity status previously awarded to the kiwifruit disease PSA or bovine tuberculosis.

The ministry has previously been criticised by scientists and conservation groups for a lack of action on the disease.

We are reaching crunch time for the Waitakere Ranges.  Kauri is a cornerstone species of the Waitakere Forest and if they die out there will be an irrevocable change.  We owe it to the Waitakere Ranges to do our best to save the King of the forest.

RIP Denise Yates

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With a great deal of sadness I wish to note that Denise Yates, a member of the Waitakere Ranges Local Board has died.

Denise and I go back a long way. I was involved in her election as a Waitakere City Councillor in 2000 during a by election. We were both then elected as Councillors in 2001 but met the same fate in 2004 when the electorate decided we should take time out. We were both then elected to the inaugural Waitakere Ranges Local Board in 2010 and Denise continued to serve until recently.

Denise was the inaugural chairperson of the Local Board. She was always energetic and passionate in everything that she did. She had a strong moral compass and a clear set of principles that she worked under. She would decide on what was right and then seek to achieve this result. Whether it was rights for the gay and lesbian community or workers rights she stuck to her principles and proudly championed their causes.

She was a passionate protector of the local environment and worked hard to ensure that the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act was passed and its principles supported.

She also enjoyed the human contact side of the role. She knew a huge number of people in the local area and nothing was more enjoyable for her than meeting and talking with people. She had a real compassion for people.

It was a shock when I learned how ill she was. Until Christmas she was still performing her role as a board member with dedication and distinction.

My best wishes go to Jo, Brenda, Mark and all the other members of her whanau.

We should always struggle for what is right and we should never give up. Denise fought the good fight all her life and never gave up.

She will be missed.

If you want to walk in the Waitakere Ranges and respect the Rāhui …

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Te Kawerau a Maki has updated its list of tracks and areas where people can walk and not breach the Rāhui.

From a press release by TKAM:

Executive Manager Edward Ashby said “We’d like the public to celebrate and enjoy all the beautiful parts of the park not covered in trees, so we thought we’d release a quick update.”

“Just to be clear that the forest does not include: the roads, beaches, open space land adjacent to beaches, wetlands, lakes, dunes, paddocks, rocks, meadows, grass berms, cafes, the sea, golf courses, houses or surf clubs.”

Celebrate “living on the edge” by visiting spectacular lookouts such as the Spragg Monument at Cornwallis and the Tasman Lookout Track at Piha.

Enjoy “views and vistas” by climbing to the bench seat at Pukehuhu at Whatipu to look out over the Manukau Heads or by visiting the Huia Lookout where you can see the whole Manukau Harbour.

“Dive into it” by walking round the north side of Lake Wainamu at Te Henga from the carpark to the waterfalls and cool off with a dip in the swimming holes. Just don’t continue round the lake in the forest but go back the way you came.

“Climb the cliffs” on the Te Henga Walkway and enjoy spectacular views across the Tasman.

Enjoy “lunch and a latte” after you’ve walked Exhibition Drive in Titirangi or visit the Huia Store after a hike along the Huia Dam Road.

Of course all the beaches remain open and “walking the dog” is still possible along the Kakamatua track to the beach, but please keep dogs on a lead until you reach the beach and always scrub and spray your shoes.

Tracks that are outside the area of the Rāhui and can be walked on include:

Titirangi:  Exhibition Drive;

Cornwallis:  Monument Track;  Track to Spragg monument;  Kakamatua Beach Walk

Huia:  Huia Dam Road;  Tracks at Hinge Bay beach;  Huia Lookout Track

Whatipu:  Track to beach;  Whatipu Caves Track;  Track to bench seat at Pukehuhu only (do not continue along Omanawanui Track);  Signal House Track;  Whatipu Coast Walk

Karekare:  Pohutukawa Glade Walk;  Track down stream to beach;  Tunnel Point track

Piha:  Tasman Lookout Track;  Lion Rock Track;  Rose Track to Whites Beach;  Laird Thompson Track over Te Waha Point from North Piha

Anawhata:  Anawhata Beach Track from end of road;  Track to beach from carpark;  Lake Wainamu Track north side only to waterfalls;  Te Henga Walkway.

Be sure you clean your shoes properly before and after.

The new Government intends to take action on Kauri dieback

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With new ministers now in place and getting their heads around some of the biggest issues faced in their portfolios the Central and Local Government response to Kauri dieback is being reviewed.

From a Beehive Press release:

The Government will move immediately to strengthen efforts to protect kauri trees from dieback disease, Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor and Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage have announced.

“We have asked the Kauri Dieback Programme to develop a National Pest Management Plan (NPMP) in light of the continued spread of this disease, which has the potential to take kauri to the brink of extinction,” Mr O’Connor says.

“An NPMP shows how serious we are about protecting kauri. It is by far the strongest piece of regulation available and will ensure mandatory hygiene practices, consistent regulations that apply nationally, stronger governance and access to funding.”

National Pest Management Plans have previously been used to combat major threats to the primary sector such as the kiwifruit disease Psa, bovine tuberculosis and American foulbrood, a bee disease.

Although there are large areas still free of the disease, Mr O’Connor says it is sensible to have more options available to reduce the risk of kauri dieback spreading to uninfected trees.

Other measures which can come into force quickly through the Biosecurity Act are also under consideration, including an interim Controlled Area Notice (CAN) applying to kauri forests. This could be used to introduce mandatory minimum hygiene standards for people to follow when going into areas that have kauri and to close areas to visitors.

“To date, we have relied on people voluntarily complying with the rules when visiting kauri areas – that they must clean their footwear, stay on marked tracks, and keep their dogs on leashes. That approach has not worked, so it is time that we come up with tougher solutions,” Mr O’Connor says.

And other ministers are also taking a keen interest.  For instance Forestry Minister Shane Jones has used typically colourful language in giving his views of the matter.  From Laura Walters at Stuff:

Forestry Minister Shane Jones said he found the situation was “particularly galling” given he was from Tai Tokerau – the home of the kauri.

The kauri was iconic in Northland, so from a personal level, the lack of progress and issues with the programme’s management grated him, Jones said.

“It’s not just a Māori thing. My view is at the heart of what it means to be a Kiwi.”

The issue was inherited from the previous government, but that did not make a difference to the fate of the kauri. “Government’s come and go, but the kauri still lives and dies, irrespective of what government is in place.”

Jones said the review was “urgently needed”, and he was open to suggestions.

“The review will be a root and branch review, not a once over lightly brush…

“I’ve made it absolutely clear to the forestry officials that everyone can be better and we must be better.”

Jones said National’s legacy was “fetid water and diseased kauri”. “As long as Fonterra keeps the milk squirting from the udder these other things appear to have lost priority.”

He also warned that any bureaucrat who had been “fiddling around” would be gone faster than the kauri.

Jones said an overarching pest management programme was also being developed, and would be co-ordinated by MPI.

The programme would include a detailed response plan for kauri dieback, which would be a “galactic improvement to what’s been happening over the past several years”, he said.

“The tragedy of the matter is that the kauri has not only suffered because of a natural pest, but the pest that has been delivering the programme to date.”

Jones said the programme was an “overdue development”. He expected to receive further briefings on Monday, and after discussions with the prime minister, he expected to be able to announce further details of the programme and the review.

The news is welcome.  The latest Kauri Dieback survey report produced by Auckland Council shows that the current approach is not working.  Central and Local Government both need to do better.

Former Auckland Council biosecurity manager Jack Craw was quoted extensively in this Stuff article about the Central and Local Government programme.  The article includes this passage:

The Kauri Dieback Programme, which included a five-year plan for research, surveillance, treatment and containment, launched in 2009.

Craw said in those first five years, the co-management system between Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), Department of Conservation (DOC), affected local councils, and iwi, worked well.

However, after the programme came up for renewal in 2014, the programme became less effective, thanks to poor management on the part of MPI, he said.

Craw, who has now retired and does private biosecurity and kauri-related consulting, said he was “dismayed” by how the programme had been handled, and believed not all of the money allocated was being spent.

The programme had also recently lost another experienced scientist, and iwi were “ready to walk”, he said.

During the last financial year, $2.1 million was allocated to the programme. About $1.4m came from MPI, with the rest coming from DOC, local councils, and charitable foundations, according to the programme’s financial statements.

In 38 years working in biosecurity, this was the “most daunting pest” Craw had encountered.

He said there was a way to contain the disease and work to regenerate the population, to a point where it could be milled again, but only with the right funding, programme and ambition.

Craw estimates an effective programme would cost about $8m a year.

And Council is moving to put more of its resources into the problem although there is a disagreement at this stage about how much.  Simon Wilson at the Spinoff said this about proceedings at a recent Finance and Performance meeting where an increase in funding for Kauri Dieback was discussed.

The committee was considering the proposed 10-year budget for council, put forward by the mayor, Phil Goff. Currently, just $5 million over 10 years is allocated to fighting kauri dieback. Given that we’ve known about this terrible disease for 10 years now, it’s pathetic. The committee basically agreed with that, and resolved to include two options in the draft of the new 10-year budget that will go out for public consultation early next year. One is to allocate an extra $83 million over 10 years to the campaign; the other ups that to $100 million.

Council officers judge the current option carries an 80% risk of kauri dieback spreading. They say the extra $83 million will reduce that risk to 30-50%, and the $100 million option to 10-20%.

The option voted down by the Finance Committee, which was proposed by Crs Alf Filipaina and Penny Hulse, would have increased the kauri dieback spend to $113 million over 10 years and taken the risk figure close to zero.

Strong words were spoken. Mayor Goff was against the biggest option. He said, “We don’t live in a perfect world. We could have put more money into sporting and cultural activities, climate change, homelessness, things like that. But if we spend $80 million more in this area it’s $80 million less in other priorities, unless you just want to add that to the rates burden.” He called both the other two options “a massive, massive increase already”.

Hulse responded by saying she agreed with “90% of what the mayor said”. Then she said the problem was that the whole debate was being conducted from the premise of having “a conservative rates rise” (just 2.5% average, as promised by Goff in his election campaign). What they had not done, she said, is ask, “What does it take to run this city?” And constructed a budget accordingly.

She said to Goff, “We’re trying to give you some air cover, Mr Mayor. It’s not your fault if we go out with options outside the 2.5% envelope.” In other words, Goff has promised a ceiling of 2.5% for raising rates but he is only one vote on council. If they override him and go a little higher, it won’t be his fault.

While a halving of the risk of the spread of Kauri dieback is a good thing I agree with Penny Hulse that as a city we need to do better.  And if the cancellation of a roundabout or two will free sufficient funds to adequately fund Kauri dieback then I think we should start cancelling.

As noted by Wilson the attempt to further increase the Mayor’s proposal for dieback funding was lost on a vote by nine votes to twelve with left wing councillors (as well as Linda Cooper) being outvoted by centrist and right wing councillors and the mayor.

Interestingly there was then a vote to disestablish Auckland Council Investments Limited and to allow Council to again have direct control of the Airport shares and Ports of Auckland.  This was lost by eleven votes to ten with Linda Cooper voting against the proposal.  This is a real shame.  I have thought that Ports of Auckland has been out of control for a while with its anti union and environment damaging decisions and bringing it under direct control would have allowed for these failings to be addressed.

The earlier Council decision to close all high and medium risk tracks is I believe the right one although they do need to be closed, every risky one without exception.  There are too many infection areas that match accurately the location of tracks.  To allow these tracks to remain open will only mean the infection of remaining healthy Kauri on these tracks.  Cleaning stations will not prevent the spread of Kauri dieback on already diseased tracks.  And we need to quarantine the disease, not try and manage its spread.

The map on the left shows identified Kauri dieback locations, the map on the right shows high and medium risk tracks.  There are a number of areas where the spread is clearly occurring along the tracks.

The new Government’s interest in doing something presents the west with a unique opportunity to get the Kauri dieback programme back on track.  The latest survey results show that we are losing the battle and must do better to save this most iconic of species.

The draft ten year plan which contains the spend on Kauri dieback will be out for consultation soon.  Can I urge all Aucklanders to support the special environmental rate proposed by the Mayor in his ten year budget proposal and to go even further and support an increase so that as a city we do not have to face the prospect of losing that most iconic of species, the Kauri.