Dredging of the Mahurangi River will start in earnest within the next two months with the aim of reaping a host of aesthetic, recreational and economic benefits for generations to come.
The Mahurangi River Restoration Trust will begin dredging after the Rodney Local Board allocated $250,000 toward the $5.1 million cost of the project last month.
Trust campaign manager Kathryn Ashworth says the dredging will allow free movement of boats up and downstream over all tides, bringing large numbers of tourists and encouraging dozens of water-based activities and businesses involved in boating and sightseeing.
She says at the moment, those coming to Auckland on cruise ships find it tough to visit the Mahurangi area because road traffic is so clogged. However, if they have ferry access to Warkworth it will open up a myriad of hospitality and other business opportunities.
“People coming into town via the river will spend money,” she said.
She says without the dredging, the river will die. Currently, silt is smothering everything in the river and harbour, upsetting its ecological balance and suffocating the aquaculture industry, including the harvesting of oysters.
But Ms Ashworth warns the river will only realise its potential if the community gets behind the project.
So far, the trust has raised just over $1 million in addition to the Rodney Local Board money and will seek to secure the remaining cash it requires through a fundraising campaign later this year.
Ms Ashworth says the trust has received excellent support and donations from groups such as Lions and Rotary, and she hopes many more community members will be encouraged by the allocation of the Local Board money and lend their weight to the campaign.
She adds that it will never be cheaper to dredge the river than now. The trust has secured a resource consent and farmland to allow land-based disposal of the sediment, but this opportunity is available only for the next three years. To dispose of the sediment out at sea would cost about $20 million.
Assuming the trust can raise the required cash, it plans to remove 115,000 cubic metres of silt and rubbish from the river over the next three years, creating a 15-metre wide navigable channel and cleaning out the town basin.
A ceremonial removal of the first bucket of silt from the river took place on August 24 before a gathering of supporters on board the Jane Gifford.
Speaking at the gathering, Local Board chair Beth Houlbrooke waved aloft the Warkworth Community Aspirations report, finalised late last year, and the latest Rodney Local Board Plan.
She said following wide consultation, both documents revealed most people saw the river as the top priority for transforming Warkworth.
“It was the river, the river, the river. So, what a no-brainer for us to put money toward the dredging,” she said.
Speaking to Mahurangi Matters earlier, she said that once the river became more attractive, shops might want to re-orientate themselves to face it. They will be encouraged to invest because of the additional numbers of people an enhanced river would bring.
She added that in the long-term, it was possible Warkworth could acquire a fast ferry service for commuting to Auckland via the Mahurangi River.