Waikato ratepayers are tapped for environmental project that made headlines when war broke out

Alf observes with some bemusement another cost heaped on residents of the Waikato.

They will be pouring more money into Maungataurari Ecological Island, described by the local newspaper as “”the jewel in the region’s environmental crown”.

But it is struggling financially and regional councillors have come to its assistance.

Not with their money, obviously. Nope. Ratepayers’ money.

Discussion on funding for the Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust (MEIT) resumed yesterday at Waikato Regional Council talks on the 2015-2025 Draft Long Term Plan.

Debate raged over two days but councillors voted 9 to 5, to commit $300,000 each year to the wildlife refuge for three years.

New information delayed proceedings overnight and when the MEIT annual report was presented, it showed an organisation “living hand-to-mouth”.

Their financial report for the year ending June 2014 showed income was down more than $450,000 on the previous year. This was due in part to the Sirocco effect – the famed kakapo who enticed visitors through the gates to the value of $200,000.

There was a $123,000 cash surplus from operations and, in the annual report, accountant Graham Scott said MEIT was heavily reliant on regional and central government funding.

Cr Theresa Stark sounds like she has her head properly screwed on.

She was concerned MEIT would not be able to sustain itself.

“We are putting money into a project that has not secured its own future and decreasing money from DoC will see it struggle even further. It is not financially prudent to be putting money into it.”

But there was bound to be a contrary opinion.

And sure enough, Cr Alan Livingston said MEIT found corporate sponsorship “very difficult” to secure (oh dear, what a shame) and they needed a council assurance over a three-year period.

“Three years provides certainty and one year is not what the sanctuary needs,” said Livingston.

Maungatautari was ecologically self-sustaining, he said (Alf admits he is unsure what this means).

And with 3400 hectares, Livingstone went on, it was unique in New Zealand.

Really?

“This is our core activity and councillors are suggesting we absolve ourselves of our core activity.”

Alf recalls the project being turned into a national joke a few years ago.

It had acquired a new controller, Ngati Koroki Kahukura, and the new controller had placed sentries at the entry gates on Tari Road, at Pukeatua in the Waikato.

Details of the howz-yer-father can be found here, but in the upshot:

This episode once again raises the stakes in a long battle being played out following Ngati Koroki Kahukura’s coup that gained control of the ecological island Trust which has put them at odds with landowners, community supporters of the project and some Maori landowners.

Although his group is not involved in the incident, the Chairman of the Maungatautari Landowners Council Warren Charleston says this type of bullying behaviour by Ngati Koroki Kahukura is in line with what landowners have witnessed in recent times.

“There is an element involved in that group that isn’t thinking about the project or the mana of their people but about control at whatever cost.

“This incident shows we are right to be concerned and police, the councils and MEIT now have to consider whether it is safe for people to come to the mountain at the moment.

Community and Funder Group advocate Gareth Morgan said the bizarre behaviour by Ngati Koroki Kahukura should be recognised as a serious concern for the community and especially for landowners.

Alf was minded of the Maori Wars being reignited in the Waikato.

He hasn’t kept an eye on what happened subsequently but he always sensed that whatever happened would be costly for ratepayers.

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