People are coming out in support for Ōpōtiki from across the country – iwi, industry, government and the wider community - following Friday's announcement that the Harbour project would not receive Government support in its current form.
Ōpōtiki District Council has promoted the Harbour Redevelopment Project for more than ten years. The plan would see a year-round navigable harbour entrance built to service the booming aquaculture industry just off the coast, allowing processing locally and associated jobs and education opportunities. It would, in turn, reduce reliance on government spending for benefits, justice, health and other social spend.
On Friday 18 May, Minister Shane Jones visited Ōpōtiki and spoke to the Mayor, Chief Executive, Dickie Farrar and Robert Edwards from Whakatōhea and several other stakeholders. He made it very clear at that meeting that the Government would not be funding the Harbour Project with a $145million price tag.
Across the country, people responded quickly to the news.
Ōpōtiki's Deputy Mayor, Lyn Riesterer, said that it has been a tough and rigorous process and she was pleased that the door hadn't completely shut on the project.
"The costs were higher than expected when the tenders came in but haven't yet been finalised. A number of complex issues had to be addressed in the design including the flooding potential of the rivers, earthquake strengthening and minimising ongoing maintenance costs. It needed to be engineered for a long life with a new engineering solution and a new construction method.
"We made sure that the new costs were validated and along with the solution and its price. Since then we have been working with the company and independent engineers to further refine solutions to bring that cost down. That work is continuing and we are pleased with the Minister's offer to provide further expert engineering advice from his advisory panel to find a way forward.
"For us the most important thing is that there is an opportunity to find a solution that will be acceptable to Government to enable Ōpōtiki and the Eastern Bay to benefit from the world-class aquaculture industry on our doorstep," Ms Riesterer said.
Whakatāne Mayor, Tony Bonne, agreed and was quick to point out the wider benefits to the entire Region.
Whakatāne District Mayor Tony Bonne said the economic opportunity presented by Ōpōtiki's large scale mussel farming development and associated onshore processing remains compelling.
"Whakatāne has been working alongside Ōpōtiki for many years towards this goal. The proposed development will be good for Ōpōtiki and good for the eastern Bay region and as a neighbouring Council, we strongly support any process which will help ensure that the economic activity aquaculture generates is captured for the benefit of the local community.
"For the moment, the boats can continue to bring mussels in to our wharf, but we would love to see the processing facilities built and providing crucial jobs in Ōpōtiki.
"Whakatāne, Ōpōtiki and Kawerau Councils are currently working on a proposal to put in front of Ministers, which will clearly define the joined-up nature of the opportunities in the eastern Bay and the benefits that will flow from them. I am confident that this work will provide weight to the argument in favour of Ōpōtiki's harbour development," Mr Bonne said.
Whakatōhea Māori Trust Board Chair, Robert Edwards, said that Whakatōhea has always been highly supportive of the Harbour Redevelopment project for many years. Whakatōhea's aspirations for the development of the existing mussel farm, and other aquaculture ventures are in the pipeline, is driven by the need to bring employment and other benefits to the rohe.
"While the current mussel farm is going from strength to strength, we have long supported the Harbour Project to grow the benefits for Ōpōtiki. When the Harbour is built and we can build our processing facilities here in town, that is when the real benefits come on line. Not just in the factory, but associated industries like science and technology, servicing the boats and providing office functions for the business, innovation and education. The growth opportunities are incredible," Mr Edwards said.
All parties will continue to work together for the best outcome for the Ōpōtiki District and eastern Bay of Plenty.
If you would like to hear more you can listen to the Radio New Zealand Nine to Noon interview with Mayor John Forbes and Whakatohea Board Chair Robert Edwards here: