Environment groups furious after cosmetic changes

Environmentalists, from left, Aaron McConchie, Reg Whale and Heather Rogan believe the weir could be the last straw for the endangered New Zealand fairy tern.

Environmental groups and farmers are furious that a controversial weir on Te Arai stream remains largely intact after being led to believe that it would be removed entirely by the end of January.

The groups say the weir, installed by developer Te Arai North Limited (TANL), poses a threat to endangered New Zealand native birds by restricting fish passage upstream, which the birds depend on for food.

Their fears were confirmed by Auckland Council ecologists Matt Bloxham and Tim Lovegrove, who investigated the weir last year.

It is feared the weir could completely wipe out the New Zealand fairy tern, with a population of only about 40 birds.

Local farmers are also upset about the weir, blaming it for creating a water choke point that has exacerbated flooding on local farms.

The expectation that the weir was on its way out came after Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) granted TANL permission to access Crown-owned land to return the stream to its pre-2013 state, when no weir existed.

LINZ spokesperson Steven Law says permission was granted when Council informed LINZ that TANL was required to undertake the works to comply with a Council abatement notice.

But when environmental group representatives visited the stream to inspect the work earlier this month, they found the weir was still there and recent modifications to it were only cosmetic.  

Those checking out the work were the convener of the Fairy Tern Charitable Trust, Heather Rogan, Save Te Arai chair Aaron McConchie and the vice-president of the Te Arai Beach Preservation Society, Reg Whale.

They say it looks as though some rocks and concrete have been chipped off the top of the weir, marginally reducing its height and making it look more natural, but this has done nothing to address the ecological problems it has created.

Ms Rogan, who previously expressed delight at the prospect of the weir’s removal following the news from LINZ, says she is “very disappointed”.

“Fish won’t be able to get back upstream and the threat to the fairy terns remains,” she says.

Local farmers are equally dismayed.

Dairy farmer Jill Parsons says prior to the installation of the weir, any flooding on their land would dissipate within hours.

Now it takes two to three days before the waters recede.

She says the minimal weir modifications will make no difference.

The concerns of farmers have been taken up by Rodney Local Board member Colin Smith.

Mr Smith says it’s imperative the weir is removed entirely to stop massive flooding.

“The Council needs to stand up, get some balls, and pull this stinking thing out,” he says.

But TANL maintains concerns about the weir are entirely unfounded.

Spokesperson David Lewis says TANL’s engineering advice is that a landform downstream of the weir, which throttles storm flows, is the primary cause of upstream flooding, not the weir.

He says that the original construction of the weir included the installation of a fish passage structure, which both Department of Conservation and Council ecologists confirm is working.

He says the weir has had no detrimental effect on fish passage or bird life.

He adds that Council abatement notice only related to work TANL carried out from 2014 and Council has never required TANL to return the stream to its pre-2013 state.   

Mahurangi Matters approached the Council for comment on this story, but received no response prior to going to press.


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