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Save East Bay: A Gold Rush To Vandalism

NOTE: "Save East Bay" is a new regular Scoop column from East Bay resident and author Betty Rowe.

At the end of January 2001 decisions will be made by the Marlborough District Council that will critically affect the future of Queen Charlotte Sound. This unique maritime area, located at the top of the South Island, is in danger from gold rush exploitation tactics which will leave a beautiful, pristine scenic bay industrialized by the proliferation of mussel farms.

Long term residents and regular visitors to East Bay were shocked to discover early last year that the Council had agreed to accept applications from the out of town speculators to fill their bay with unsightly black mussel farm buoys (mussel farms consist of rows of large plastic buoys from which ropes hang for the mussels to grow).

The first indication of trouble for residents like myself, was when I emptied my mail bag on the table and found it full of official documents from the Council bag, each containing an application for a mussel farm license.

Nick Smith, previous Minister of Conservation, had lifted a moratorium that had halted expansion of marine farming and it seems that someone in the Council had, without the consultation promised under the Resource Management Act, drawn an arbitrary line to suddenly exclude East Bay from the rest of Queen Charlotte Sound and allow mussel farms in this one area.

Phones rang hot amongst the puzzled residents and bach owners trying to comprehend this sudden change in zoning. As the implications of what was being presented as agreed policy became clear, disbelief and anger began to surface. Application after application arrived and each needed a full response within a given number of days giving precise reasons for opposition.

Why had we not been informed that the tranquillity of East Bay was about to be shattered? Council replied that we had been notified - by a public notice in the Marlborough Express, a newspaper that is not delivered to the outer sounds. In any case, many residents also live in Wellington or Christchurch for some of the time. None of the approximately 50 landowners in the zone saw the public notice, and searched in vain in the copious correspondence received from the Council on rates, charges and other miscellaneous business for any mention of the change.

According to the Council, it is too late to challenge the zoning decision. But it does seem significant that all 50 landowners have objected to the applications for mussel farm licenses. There are 20 applications covering over 200 hectares, a 540% increase from the area currently farmed in East Bay. If these mussel farms are established, they will bring pollution, noise and obstruction to water craft and recreational fishers in an historically significant and environmentally unique ecosystem.

Meanwhile the risks of the plastic detritus pollution spreading across Queen Charlotte Sound and affecting the rest of the Sounds environment are not even being considered. In the Pelorus Sounds, already full of mussel farms, the endangered King Shag and Gannets are now using plastic rubbish from farms to make their nests.

Separate hearings will be held for each application, the first three will be heard on 24th and 25th January in the Council Chambers in Blenheim. The same process will have to be repeated each time by the weary residents to ensure their voice is even heard.

The Council has no policy or guidelines about the appropriate volume of such farms or even for their management. First in, first served seems to be the sum total of the basis for decision making.

So what? Is it significant for the remainder of Queen Chalotte Sound? Does it matter to other New Zealanders? Why describe it as a gold rush?

Consider these facts. Each prospective applicant for a mussel farm spends in the region of $40,000 to file an application and pay legal and technical consultants to prepare their case. Once a license is granted, it is estimated to be worth in the region of $100,000 per hectare without any further investment at all. The license can immediately be traded, just like any other investment opportunity, and will probably be seen as a premium opportunity by overseas investors. The largest application in East Bay (90 ha) may cost the applicants up to $100,000 to obtain a private asset worth approximately $9 million from the public estate.

After all, Marlborough District Council has no coastal charge regime so there are no further costs other than the establishment of the farm itself. The income of the farm per hectare (after expenses) is estimated to be in the region of $40,000 per annum.

Is this travesty how the Resource Management Act is supposed to operate?

Betty Rowe
Friday, January 05, 2001
Lilly Valley
East Bay
Marlborough Sounds

- For further information on the Save East Bay campaign. Contact: Marcie, Roy and Ben at Te Aroha Bay, (03) 579 9035 (party line), or at arapawa@xtra.co.nz. Betty Rowe can be contacted at walt.betty@xtra.co.nz and (03) 579 9032 (party line). A website for the Save East Bay Campaign is under development.

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