The Mahurangi River Restoration Trust, desperate to find funding to continue dredging the Mahurangi River, got no joy from a Mayoral Candidates meeting at the Warkworth Town Hall on September 20.
The trust was forced to suspend dredging operations several weeks ago after it ran out of cash and needs around $120,000 just to start again.
Candidates were asked whether they were willing to commit money to the dredging at the town hall meeting, but all stopped short of doing so.
Mayor Phil Goff said there was a huge job to do right across the Hauraki Gulf and the river dredging was “not something that in the immediate future we have got funds to invest in”.
Candidate John Tamihere suggested funding from the dredging should come from the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund, an avenue the trust has tried, but was rejected.
Candidate Craig Lord said Council should stop spending money on “stupid things” in Auckland’s CBD, but failed to say that he would use savings to dredge the Mahurangi River.
Meanwhile, the trust is running out of time to take advantage of land-based disposal arrangements for dumping the silt. A local farmer has agreed to allow the silt to be put into pits on his land, but the agreement runs out in about 15 months and will need to be renegotiated. If the silt has to be dumped at sea, costs will ramp up to $20 million.
Currently, the total cost of the project is estimated at $5.1 million. Dredging started in earnest late last year following a $250,000 injection from the Rodney Local Board and private donations, but by February the trust was struggling to continue operations as funding started to dry up.
Trust management committee chair Steve Burrett says the trust is continuing to search for other sources of funding, but applications to the Department of Conservation and the Minister of the Environment have so far fallen on deaf ears.
He considers it unfair that the Government had recently committed almost $12 million to cleaning up the Kaipara Harbour, while the Mahurangi River gets no government money.
“For me personally it’s totally frustrating. Perhaps somebody in the community has got a bright idea of how we go about getting this money,” he said.
Dredging the Mahurangi River is anticipated to reap a host of environmental, recreational and economic benefits for years to come, and perhaps open the way for a fast ferry to operate between Warkworth and Auckland.
Supporters argue a dredged river will improve fish life and reduce the amount of sediment flowing into the Hauraki Gulf.