Trust mounts legal challenge to force removal of weir

Environmentalists, from left, Save Te Arai chair Aaron McConchie, vice-president of the Te Arai Beach Preservation Society Reg Whale and convener of the Fairy Tern Charitable Trust Heather Rogan believe the weir could be the last straw for the endangered New Zealand fairy tern.

Frustration over the continued presence of a weir across Te Arai Stream has prompted the New Zealand Fairy Tern Charitable Trust to take legal action to try to force Auckland Council to remove it.

The trust has long maintained that the weir restricts the passage of fish upstream, which in turn risks wiping out the endangered New Zealand fairy tern, which depend on the fish for food.

Trust convener Heather Rogan says an especially bad breeding season for fairy terns last year has prompted the trust to step up its campaign to have the weir removed.

There are estimated to be only 36 New Zealand fairy terns in existence. Last year, only two chicks survived following the breeding season.

To improve the birds’ chances, the trust has applied to the Environment Court seeking an enforcement order against Auckland Council to remove the “dam structure” and restore the stream bed to its condition prior to September 2013.

The application is supported by the Te Arai Beach Preservation Society and Save Te Arai.

Local farmers have also complained that the weir creates a water choke point that causes flooding on nearby farms.

The weir was installed by developer Te Arai North Limited (TANL) to facilitate the extraction of water for use by the exclusive Tara Iti golf course.

Early last year, environmental groups were led to believe the weir was on its way out, when TANL was obliged to undertake works to comply with a Council abatement notice.

However, the groups were disappointed to discover the works only marginally reduced the height of the weir and in their view failed to address the ecological problems it created.

Meanwhile, Auckland Council has signalled to the Environment Court that intends to oppose the Fairy

Tern Charitable Trust’s application for an enforcement order.

Council says its role is primarily as a regulator under the Resource Management Act and it lacks the access rights to carry out the works required by any orders.

It says the enforcement action should be directed towards TANL or the Department of Conservation, which administers the land through which the stream runs.  

For its part, TANL continues to deny that the weir restricts fish passage.

TANL spokesperson David Lewis says the weir is equipped with a fish passage structure that Council ecologists verify is working. And he says the primary cause of flooding is a landform downstream of the weir, which throttles storm flows, not the weir itself.    

Nevertheless, he says TANL has plans to remove the weir anyway, which is no longer required for water extraction purposes, but still serves as a crossing point connecting the northern part of the reserve through to Te Arai Point.

He says TANL intends to replace the crossing point with a bridge that will be open to the public.      

The Environment Court plans a hearing on the enforcement order in early October.