Council will begin compliance activity at the Delaware Bay Estuary. Photo: NCC.

Council tests waters at Delaware Bay

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Boaties planning to launch their boats at Delaware Bay this summer will need to look elsewhere after council says it will begin compliance activities in the area.

The issue of access at Delaware Bay has been a contentious topic for 20 years and surfaced again at last week’s Nelson City Council environment committee meeting.

Both recreational users and local iwi spoke to a report prepared for council, which looks at different options on how to handle future access to the estuary.

The Resource Management Act states that vehicles cannot drive on any foreshore unless the area is subject to a resource consent; The estuary at Delaware Bay is not.

However, council has not enforced these rules and over a 20-year period the estuary has become a popular spot for boaties to launch and retrieve their boats due to safety and convenience.

Spokesperson for the Delaware Bay Working Group, which represents more than 600 recreational boat users, Zane Mirfin, told councillors that if they restrict vehicle access to the estuary “someone’s going to die out there”.

Zane says the Delaware Estuary is the only safe, all-weather, all-tide access to the sea between Port Nelson and Okiwi Bay.

“We all love this estuary, we all want to protect it, we all want to enjoy it.”

He says the area is “everybody’s food basket” and is very valuable to all Nelson people.

However, Te Huria Matenga Wakapuaka Trust spokesman Anaru Stephens says he feels “appalled” when he sees vehicles driving on the sacred land.

He says the estuary is “one of the best areas Nelson has” in regard to estuarine health, with fragile organisms including seagrass, cockles and mussels all calling the area home.

“This area is not only a breeding ground for certain fish species, it is an area for juveniles of other fish species to grow, learn and feed, we need to be looking after these areas.”

Instead, he says the area is being “depleted, desecrated, destroyed”.

Geologist Markham Phillips says the preferred defined access area does not contain those organisms.

He says the proposal is to have a narrow strip of land available so that people are not allowed to drive anywhere else on the estuary.

“This narrow strip, which is about a third of a per cent of the total land mass of the estuary, it’s on rock, not where the life is,” says Markham.

Ngāti Tama kaumatua Ratapu Hippolite spoke in support of restricting vehicle access, urging the councillors to “do your job.”

“Sixty-three illegal entries across the estuary have been recorded, and no prosecutions. Do your job.”

Committee chair Kate Fulton moved to delay a decision until the next committee meeting to allow time to better communicate with iwi and the community.

The motion was accepted, and the issue will be looked at again on March 5, 2020.

In the meantime, council says they will undertake “appropriate compliance activity”.

When questioned what that would mean for existing recreational users, acting group manager environmental management Mandy Bishop says the driving of vehicles on the estuary breaches a rule in the Nelson Resource Management Plan.

“Council has a range of compliance tools it can use, and it is our practice to undertake an educative approach and encourage all visitors to Delaware Bay to act responsibly.

“If the behaviour of any offender warrants further action then council will determine the most appropriate action to take.”