Instigators of a project to connect Snells Beach with Warkworth via an eight-kilometre walkway and cycleway will press ahead with plans, despite the proposed route crossing land infected with kauri dieback.
The route crosses Duck Creek Reserve, which this month Council identified as the worst-affected for dieback on Council-owned land in the Rodney area.
So far, Auckland Council has tested 143 trees at Duck Creek, and 13 are showing advanced symptoms of the disease and four have tested positive for dieback.
The discovery has prompted residents along Duck Creek Road to express concern about the cycleway route.
Resident Derek Holland describes himself as a cycling enthusiast and is eager to see the cycleway proceed, but nevertheless has reservations about the section that goes through Duck Creek.
“I just wonder if it is a very sensible thing to put a walkway or a cycleway through the bush where there is kauri dieback,” he says.
But walkway project chairman Gary Heaven says the project committee fully expected there would likely be issues with kauri since the project was conceived more than a decade ago, and it has strategies to deal with the issue.
He says the walkway will maximise the distance between itself and kauri and, as far as possible, be on ground lower than kauri to discourage transfer of the deadly pathogen back to the trees themselves.
“That’s 90 per cent of the reason we are heading along the Mahurangi River’s edge at Duck Creek rather than taking an overland section through the bush,” he says.
Mr Heaven says a project feasibility study in 2016 identified alternative routes through the bush, but these were now considered unfeasible “in any shape or form” because of the dieback issue.
The recent identification of kauri dieback disease at Duck Creek has angered Snells Beach environmental advocate Michele MacKenzie, who says she alerted Council to trees showing obvious symptoms of the disease back in January last year.
She feared the disease could spread further via an extensive green belt, containing many large kauri, that follows the Mahurangi River towards Warkworth.
Despite numerous efforts to have a Council officer visit the site with her, these were regularly deferred.
Last September, Council informed Ms MacKenzie that limited testing at Duck Creek had come back negative.
But her relief was short-lived when a report in Mahurangi Matters (MM April 3) confirmed dieback was, in fact, present at Duck Creek – something she had strongly suspected for more than a year.
Council biosecurity manager Lisa Tolich confirms Council testing only confirmed dieback at Duck Creek after September 2018.
Confirmation came following an aerial surveillance programme and ground testing, which began in Rodney during summer last year. The large number of soil samples generated led to laboratory processing delays, which, in turn, delayed identification of dieback at Duck Creek.
Ms Tolich says the greatest risk of the disease transferring beyond Duck Creek is people inadvertently moving soil along a trail network.
She says Council’s biosecurity team will need to assess kauri dieback risk mitigation measures prior to allowing any work on a walkway and cycleway through Duck Creek.