Government dips toe into dried-up dredging fund crisis

The Hon Grant Robertson MP was in Mahurangi as guest speaker at the Rodney Labour Waitangi picnic at Heron’s Flight in Matakana on Saturday, February 8. He is pictured here with Labour List MP Marja Lubeck and vineyard owner Mary Evans.

Hopes that Auckland Council and the Government can work together to fund the cash-strapped project to dredge the Mahurangi River may have taken a small step forward, following a visit to the region by Finance Minister Grant Robertson.

On hearing that the project was due to be mothballed unless more funding could be found, and that the $5.1 million cost would escalate to $20 million if the project was delayed, Mr Robertson agreed Government should discuss the issue with Council.

“This is something I haven’t delved into before, but it’s clearly an important issue for this area that needs to be dealt with,” he said. “Ultimately, Auckland Council needs to grab a hold of it. But early investment may mean saving money down the line and we can have a talk with Council about that.”

He also suggested the Mahurangi River Restoration Trust (MRT) take up the issue with Ministry for the Environment.

Mr Roberston admitted that the project being ineligible for the Provincial Growth Fund, because Warkworth was part of Auckland, was an issue the Government should address.

“We need to work out a different way. Shane (Jones) would be the first to say we’ve learned a lot and we want to apply those lessons in the future.”

Following Mr Robertson’s visit, a Ministry of Environment spokesperson said the department administered several contestable funds that sought to support community-led projects aimed at improving New Zealand’s rivers.

“There are two funds of possible relevance for the Mahurangi River restoration project, including the Freshwater Improvement Fund and the Community Environment Fund,” a spokesperson said. “It’s possible that the goals for the Mahurangi River may also be aligned with funding programmes managed by the Ministry of Transport or Department of Internal Affairs, among others, and I encourage them to explore those possibilities.”

Meanwhile, MRRT is calling on Auckland Council again to instigate talks with the Government to stop the project being abandoned.

Trust spokesperson Steve Burrett said without dredging, fish and aquatic life would decline and the possibility of a ferry would be put on the back burner for years.

“Most importantly, Warkworth and the surrounding Rodney area will lose out on the biggest opportunity it has to rejuvenate the whole area, enhance a superb national treasure in the river, create more employment and develop a natural asset for the 25,000 additional people who are destined to reside in the area,” he said.

A Council mayoral office spokesperson said Auckland Council continued to work closely with the MRRT to find a sustainable solution.

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