14 Jul 2015

Council to inform Maori over oil spills

11:06 pm on 14 July 2015

The Bay of Plenty Regional Council says it has "cleaned up its act" after a lack of communication with Māori following an oil spill in April earlier this year.

Oil on the Tauranga Harbour foreshore on Tuesday.

Oil on the Tauranga Harbour foreshore. Photo: Bay of Plenty Regional Council

The regional council said it had introduced policies to ensure local iwi would be properly informed and consulted.

Local iwi say they had to rely on second-hand reports to find out about the 1500 litres of oil that poured into Tauranga Harbour in April.

Tāngata whenua were angry when they were alerted via the media instead of being the council's 'first responder'.

The regional council and oil giant Mobil have both apologised to the Tauranga Moana Iwi Chairs Forum, the group representing the three iwi in the rohe.

The forum, which aims to protect the harbour, is made up of Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāti Pūkenga and Ngāi Te Rangi.

Carlton Bidois is the Ngāti Ranginui liaison person charged with overseeing communication in the event of an oil spill.

Mr Bidois warned the leak wouldn't be the last environmental threat to the area, and said the council needed to get its procedures right.

"I can't see there not being another oil spill, having the largest port here in New Zealand and a dynamic harbour like this and a harbour entrance like ours," he said.

"So I'm not going to put my bottom dollar on it that this is the last issue we'll have around oil response."

Phone problem cause of delay

The council's strategic communications manager, Sue-Ellen Craig, admitted its communication with Māori had been flawed.

She said the day of the spill was a public holiday and iwi were not contacted because of a problem with a phone.

"Someone's cellphone wasn't working as well as it should have, which delayed them getting their message through to kick off the information tree at our end," she said.

"As a consequence of the timing, the decision was made not to inform anyone until early on the Tuesday morning."

Bags of waste and oil collected at Maungatapu, near Tauranga.

Bags of waste and oil collected at Maungatapu, near Tauranga. Photo: Bay of Plenty Regional Council

Ms Craig said the council identified other problems as well with its response to the pollution: it needed to have a clearer idea of who to contact in the iwi, and a plan to deal with the aftermath.

She said previously its system relied on one person to alert them to environmental threats.

"In this particular instance that protocol wasn't followed and we have now put something in place to ensure that we're not relying just on one person to follow a protocol for information flow."

Ngāi Te Rangi's iwi liaison for the oil spill response, Reon Tuanau, said the council had acknowledged that iwi needed to be kept informed and involved.

"They now do realise the importance of tāngata whenua inclusion into the response and also the recovery phase of cleaning up this mess from the oil spill," he said.

"I think they've seen the benefit and value of having tāngata whenua at the table for all of the decision-making, so that we can be clear from the onset this is what we're trying to maintain and uphold while making we're making our decisions, to ensure that the cultural integrity, the mana, of these areas is maintained."

Mr Tuanau said it was important the council learned from its mistakes and put a policy in place that worked.

He said the iwi had developed a framework that outlined who to contact and the correct protocol.

"What we're are trying to aim from here is to ensure that this is put into some sort of policy, as part of their response to these sort of these incidents, and to ensure that our framework is recognised for part of their process into the future."

Mr Bidois said the iwi had devised a communication framework which other tribes could adopt to prevent the same thing from happening to them.

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