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Waituna farmers put Trust in the hot seat

Waituna farmers put Trust in the hot seat

Farmers in the Waituna catchment, in Southland, turned out in force late last week to challenge a charitable trust’s plans to spend more than $13m in the area.

The Whakamana Te Waituna Trust had organised a “drop-in” session at the Gorge Road Country Club but farmers and recreational users, who had recently got wind of the Trust’s spending plans turned up armed with questions, and held a meeting instead.

Meeting organiser and Waituna Farmers United Chairman Ray McCrostie challenged the trustees present to rethink how they treat farmers in the catchment and he questioned their listening skills.

“When you denigrate and trample on the mana of the farmers at the bottom of the catchment, as you have done by your actions, you insult all of us.

“These actions in earlier times would have led our ancestors to war, because like Maori, farmers in this catchment have a deep attachment to the land,” he said.

“The farmers of Waituna had been happy to work with Environment Southland to improve the water quality of Waituna Lagoon. They have done a lot of work in the catchment, many doing more than was ever asked of them,” Mr McCrostie said.

But since then the Trust has been formed, and gained funding from the Ministry for the Environment, they seem to have forgotten all about consultation with the catchment, he said.

An Official Information Act request to the MFE brought details of the planned spending spree to light. It highlighted the excessive amount of money the Trust plans to spend on consultants, facilitators and contractors. Several farmers at the meeting questioned the Trustees on this subject and while the Trustees replied, they had very few answers.

Of interest to those present, were details of some of the Trust’s objectives - including a higher lagoon level and changing the lagoon opening regime.

In the document it states:

“By 2022, establish a hydrological regime for a healthy lagoon, with recreational and cultural access, that provides adjoining landowners with certainty.

“Note: includes setting and achieving an operational long term maximum water level between 2.3m and 2.5m).”

At present a consent is held which allows the lagoon to be opened to the sea at 1.8m to 2.0m depending on conditions. The lagoon is “let go” to enable farm drainage, prevent flooding, enable fish passage and to flush the lagoon for ecological reasons.

Waituna farmer Joanne Crack warned farmers several times that they cannot trust the Trust. She said that she and husband Darrin had been misled by representatives of the Trust.

“They have repeatedly told us one thing and then done another. They have delayed us and led us along. They have been difficult to deal with and told us to only contact the Trust and the council through their Christchurch-based lawyer.

“Our farm is one of those affected by high lagoon levels. We need the lagoon opened at 2.0m to prevent flooding and damage to our drainage network.

“The Trust had indicated they wanted to buy the affected part of our farm. We said we would be happy to sell it but only at a fair price which would allow us to buy other land in the catchment.”

“Their offer was less than half valuation and we declined.”

The subject of valuations in the catchment brought about strong discussion, with farmers asking the Trustees how they would like to have their land or house devalued. The Trustees did not respond.

One of the Trust’s objectives is to provide a landward buffer for Waituna Lagoon.

It states in its application for funding:

“By 2022, the area of land managed for biodiversity and ecosystem function accessible for mahinga kai and recreational uses surrounding the Waituna catchment and lagoon has increased.”

Dozens of questions went unanswered, and not one of the 80 odd people present was happy. Many asked for information including Mokotua farmer Gay Munro who asked for detail on the planned spend and about future limits for the catchment.

Invercargill fisherman and hunter Lindsay Paddon asked about rates but was quickly told by one of the farmers that rates were the least of his worries as the Trust planned to get rid of his fishing hut, among others.

The Trust is made up of representatives of Environment Southland, Dept Of Conservation , Living Water (DOC/Fonterra), Te Rununga o Ngai Tahu, Southland District Council and Te Rununga o Awarua.

Farmers asked why there are no representatives from the catchment on the Trust? After some discussion on this the Trustees were able to suggest this might be put right.

The project’s purpose:

The programme utilises a partnership model of Integrated Catchment Management to:

re-establish a hydrological regime protecting the ecological, cultural, scientific and recreational values associated with Waituna Lagoon’s status (Ramsar site, scientific reserve, taonga of Te Runanga o Awarua and Southland).
Provide alternative land-use options for the land adjacent to the lagoon, re-establishing the hydrological regime and protecting the lagoon’s values.
Demonstrate the scalability of alternative drainage system design/management and farm system interventions to reduce impacts of ground and surface water contaminants on Waituna Lagoon and its tributaries.
Re-establish Te Runanga o Awarua’s connection and role as kaitiaki.

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