Is one quarter of one percent too much to ask?

Nelson City Council is bulldozing on with its case in the Environment Court, seeking a declaration on whether driving on Delaware (Wakapuaka) Estuary to launch or retrieve commercial or recreational boats is permitted; in effect, Council is asking clarification of its own rule.

Despite outgoing Group Manager of Environmental Management Clare Barton claiming the Nelson Resource Management Plan is ambiguous regarding access and that Nelson City Council is only seeking to have the provisions clarified, their application is heavily weighted against vehicle access and clearly states they regard driving on the estuary as not permitted and want to enforce that.

The Delaware Bay Access Group Inc has tried to negotiate with Nelson City Council for five years, to maintain boat launching access, which the public has enjoyed for generations. It is the only sheltered, safe all-weather launching ramp in the area and has been used both commercially and recreationally for at least 180 years.

The group maintain the rule in question, CMr33 (Coastal Management Rule33) is very clear and specific, and allows for ‘the disturbance of foreshore or seabed by vehicles’. Launching or retrieving boats from beach launching ramps is permitted under the rule, as evidenced by the Cable Bay Ramp.

The group worked for two years with council and met with iwi to develop a comprehensive Managed Access Plan that included defining a low footprint launch lane well clear of archeological sites, appropriate instructional, ecological and cultural signage, the erection of a pou whenua (statue), a koha box, plantings and remedial work, and habitat enhancement. Council and local iwi rejected the plan in late 2019.

Delaware (Wakapuaka) Estuary is also the primary access point of the local Taiāpure, established in 2002 and managed by a committee of iwi, community and marine group representatives with a view to ‘create an enhanced community asset, for the benefit of the wider community’ (Wakapuaka Taiāpure Aspirations: Philosophy). Banning launching here will deny safe primary access to the Taiāpure for both iwi and the wider community.

Delaware Bay Access Group spokesman Daryl Crimp said it’s important to put the issue into perspective, “The estuary covers 353 square hectares but the small strip of impacted gravel the public requires to launch from utilises approximately one quarter of one percent of this!”

The group says the council has deliberately changed the narrative over the past six years, arguing the rule ‘prohibits’ launching unless at ‘designated’ ramps (words that are not in the rule) and that the purpose of the rule is to ‘protect the flora, fauna and ecology of the estuary’. The rule expressly allows for the ‘disturbance of the foreshore and seabed by vehicles’, if associated with a variety of activities. Banning the launching of boats at Delaware (Wakapuaka) Estuary won’t ban vehicles entirely—the rule allows for 10 other activities that permit driving on the estuary.

While it is a local issue, any adverse Environment Court decision may have repercussions for fishers who enjoy beach launching throughout the Top of the South and, potentially, the rest of the country.

“It’s important people unite to stop the steady erosion of our rights of access,” Daryl Crimp says.

He urges the wider community to support the group by joining the Delaware Bay Access Group Incorporated Society and by donating generously to help fund legal opposition to the council in the Environment Court.

“Nelson City Council is using rate-payer dollars to lock rate-payers and local residents out of Delaware,” says Daryl Crimp, “but seriously folks—is one quarter of one percent too much to ask for?”

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