15 Oct 2014

Anger over Bay reserve decision

4:49 pm on 15 October 2014

Community groups in the Bay of Islands are furious at a council decision to let a boat yard owner use a coastal reserve for his business.

Doug Schmuck of Opua, has been battling for years for the right to use part of the Walls Bay esplanade reserve to clean boats.

Community groups trying to protect the crown-owned reserve thought they had won the fight - but the Far North council's dashed their hopes.

Mr Schmuck and previous owners of the boat yard have always had the right to haul boats out of the water on railway tracks, across the reserve, and up to his property.

But he had been trying for more than a decade to win the right to work on the boats on the reserve itself.

Far North mayor John Carter said Mr Schmuck had council resource consents, tested in court, that would allow him to do that.

But community groups, DOC and the Greens have argued in the past, that the Reserves Act prevented the private use of public land.

The saga had been in and out of councils, courts and even Parliament - where efforts to legalise Mr Schmucks activities in a ROLD bill, failed, in 2009, after the Speaker ruled a clause conferring private benefit could not be included in a public bill.

Mr Carter said finally, the council's close to a solution after negotiating with DOC.

He said the Minister of Conservation had passed over its landowner responsibility in the case, to the Far North District Council.

The mayor said the council was making changes to the Walls Bay management plan that would allow Mr Schmuck to rest a couple of boats on a small area where he might wash or scrape them down, before taking them into his yard for repair.

Community groups who had been trying to enhance the reserve are horrified at the prospect. .

Spokesperson for tangata whenua and other groups Maiki Marks said Walls Bay was the only esplanade reserve left in Opua, and a feature of the Bay of Islands walkway.

She said Mr Schmuck already treated the reserve as if he owns it, pulling out trees planted by volunteers and shouting at kaumatua trying to cut the grass.

Mr Schmuck had not returned calls asking for an interview.

Ms Marks said the council had gone about helping him in secret - and changed the community's Walls Bay management plan without consultation.

She said the changes to the management plan were taken in committee recently by the local community board, and not even listed as an item on the agenda.

Ms Marks said Walls Bay was an important site for Maori: it was the subject of a Treaty claim and it was close to the pouwhenua planted at Opua by the widely-respected Ngapuhi leader Sir James Henare in the 1980s.

She said cleaning boats on the reserve would pose a risk of contamination to land and the sea.

Myra Larcombe - who is 87 - and still teaches swimming in Opua, said Walls Bay had been a treasured swimming and picnic spot since the 1940s.

She said she was appalled that the council was allowing a business to encroach on land owned and valued by the public.

Henry Nissen has lived next to the boatyard since 1967, and he said no one was going to want to picnic on the reserve with Mr Schmuck water- blasting boats, nearby.

And he was worried the noise and smells already generated by the business will only increase if it expanded onto the coastal reserve.

He said the council decision also set a dangerous precedent, that put other coastal reserves at risk in the north.

However, John Carter said Mr Schmuck's boatyard was a popular and useful business, and a special case that had dragged on for too long, costing the council far too much.

He said the Far North council hoped to confirm its solution by the end of the month.

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