While the proceeds from the Araparera joint venture languish in Auckland Council’s bank account, a Rodney Local Board member is calling for an audit of the harvest.
Member Greg Sayers, who is concerned about the profitability of the scheme and the return to ratepayers after a 28-year investment, doesn’t believe that the audit commissioned by Council will go far enough.
“Although the board has yet to see the audit, I believe it examines the financial accountability of the scheme, but we also need to look at how the harvest was managed, the timing of the harvest and the rate of return achieved,” he says.
Concerns about the profitability of the forestry scheme have also been raised in other quarters.
Mangakura landholder Gordon Perry had trees of the same age as the Araparera forest, planted just 12 to 15kms away.
“They came from the same nursery and were planted by the same contractors,” he says. “The two forests were almost identical, except mine was on much steeper ground. Both had nil farming history and both were planted on burnt-off scrub land.”
Mr Perry says that while he acknowledges that no two forests are exactly the same, he was surprised by the difference between the harvest figures.
“I got an average of 650 tonnes per hectare in 2015, while Council’s figures indicate their contractor averaged 500 tonnes per hectare. That’s a big difference and would have had a significant impact on the final proceeds.”
Another forest landholder in the same area said he got 700 tonnes per hectare and estimated that the Araparera forest should have been worth somewhere in the region of $20 million. This is well short of the $3.578 million that Council’s property arm Panuku Development Auckland says will be shared between the two joint venture parties.
Mr Perry also challenges claims by a former consultant on Araparera that the decision to start logging the forest was influenced by the fact that “log prices were at their highest in a decade” (Mahurangi Matters May 4).
“Log prices vary from month to month and year-to-year. Prices were good at the start of the 2000s, but crashed in 2004. It wasn’t until 2014 that prices were encouraging foresters to start harvesting again.”
For more than 28 years more than 7000 North Rodney ratepayers financed the Araparera Forest Joint Venture on the promise that the proceeds would be spent on roads in the north.
Although harvesting of the forest finished two years ago, ratepayers have yet to see a cent.