No-go for $145mil Ōpōtiki Harbour project

By Talisa Kupenga

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones will not fund Ōpōtiki's Harbour development, writing it off as un-viable and too expensive. 

The $145-million project would have expanded deep-sea mussel farming off the township's coast and created jobs in the region. 

Jones says he reluctantly declined the project because it was deemed too risky and too expensive to go ahead.

"I empathise with Whakatōhea, they hoped this wharf would re-energise the township," says Jones.

Whakatōhea Māori Trust Board chairman Robert Edwards says, "We would have liked it to go through because we have our dreams and aspirations all around this harbour".  

The Ōpōtiki District Council's initial business case put the harbour build at $52mil.  The higher cost was due to the plan being earthquake-proof and making it low maintenance for the township's ratepayers- but the cost outweighs the community's resources.

Jones says, "If the wharf development project cost is reduced we could reconsider but we cannot support it if that is the advice from our advisory board".

Edwards says, "We are still focused on getting the harbour open...the government wouldn't go with the $145 million but they are still prepared to negotiate and look for another model that will suit and get the harbour open for us".

The project would have expanded deep-sea mussel farming in the region by making the harbour more accessible to larger vessels all year round.

Advice to the minister showed the region did not have enough mussel beds to make the project financially viable, meaning it could have been operating at a loss for at least 10 years.

Edwards says, “We've lost all our land and we endeavor to get it back one acre at a time over time.  But in the meantime we're looking to the sea as something that could be a saviour for us I suppose, at the present moment.  But it will help us fulfill our dream of getting back our land over time".

Edwards says the iwi and councils will work together and with government to get the project off the ground.