Delaware Bay tensions are boiling over with local iwi handing out trespass notices to bemused boaties after an agreement between them failed to materialise.
Nelson City Council have also acknowledged failings in how it communicated the issue after it was “missed from a task list”.
Last weekend some recreational bay users were handed trespass notices on behalf of Te Huria Matenga Wakapuaka Trust claiming that, under the Trespass Act 1980, it was an offence to enter.
One user, who did not want to be named, says a woman stood in front of his vehicle when he was driving back to the road and gave him the trespass note.
“She said her bit about protecting the eco system and a bit about what they wanted to protect with the burial sites and stuff.
“I understand them wanting to protect it, but it’s supposed to be everyone’s, so it does piss you off a bit. It’s a massive estuary so surely that little bit that we use isn’t too bad.”
The estuary has long been an unofficial launching area for sea-goers, as a safer alternative than nearby Cable Bay, but is also an ecological and culturally significant site for local iwi.
Ownership of the estuary has been in dispute for years, with Te Huria Matenga Wakapuaka Trust gaining ownership title to the land through the Maori Land Court in 1998 but losing it again to the Crown in a Court of Appeal decision.
It was then taken to the Supreme Court which said it could not take a different view from the Court of Appeal and denied a second appeal.
For the last few years both iwi and a group set up on behalf of recreational users have been working with Nelson City Council to try and reach an agreement that would allow preservation of the site while still leaving access for recreational users.
Council’s group manager environmental management Clare Barton says the estuary is subject to the Resource Management Act which states that vehicles cannot be driven on an estuary.
“Yes, to be fair, it has been used previously, but the numbers of boaties using it has substantially increased. Where it was two or three, it’s now a significant number who are using it and iwi remain very concerned about the significance of the area.”
Last year an agreement was reached between the parties to prepare a resource consent that would temporarily allow for a defined access route for the period of 1-2 years as a trial, starting in the 2019/20 summer season.
However, after the draft was prepared, Clare says iwi members were feeling uncomfortable with it, so council agreed the consent would not be lodged for approval.
Clare says, after this decision was made the task of informing the recreational users that the consent was not proceeding was not followed through as it was “missed from an officer’s task list”.
Delaware Bay resident Peter Ruffell, on behalf of the recreation advisory group, says they are disappointed that it’s come to this.
“We’ve been working with council and putting a lot of time and effort into coming up with a solution to keep everyone happy.
“We wanted the area to be marked out, and as far as we knew that’s what was going to happen, we didn’t hear any different. We would like to think that people won’t be fooled into thinking that recreational users are causing a lot of damage, which is simply not true,” says Peter.
A police spokesperson says they have offered advice to council on the validity of the trespass notices.
“The area of land in question is currently in disputed ownership, and as such there is no one person or organisation that would be officially permitted to issue a trespass relating to that land.”
Clare says council do need to be able to work out what they are going to do going forward and are in the process of setting up meetings with both iwi and recreational users.
A spokesperson for Te Huria Matenga Wakapuaka Trust was unable to be contacted.