Rail-centric view does Northland no favours

“The Upper North Island Supply Chain Study has focussed solely on rail and this does Northland no favours,” says Annabel Young, Executive Director of the NZ Shipping Federation, talking about the Interim Progress Report of the study group. “Their rail-centric view has blinded them to the opportunities available to Northport that are not dependent on rail.”

A dry dock in Whangarei would be a win-win for both the city and New Zealand as a whole; but in the interim report it gets a scant one-line mention. The lack of a dry dock is hurting this country due to the environmental and financial costs that have to be incurred when our coastal shipping operators are required to dry dock their vessels off-shore in Singapore or Australia. There are already cases where overseas ships are avoiding New Zealand due to the toxic combination of high biosecurity cleanliness requirements for a vessels hull and secondly, the inability to clean a ship in a dock that does not fit in the Devonport dry dock.

We note that the interim study assumes that cargo landed in Northport would need to be moved by rail which ignores the obvious possibility of movement by sea, as is done now in many other parts of the world using smaller domestic coastal ships and barges.

This first report sets up a paradigm where rail is deemed to be the only answer. The Federation believes it may be asking the wrong questions.

Notes

The New Zealand Shipping Federation began in 1906 and is the key representative body for New Zealand’s coastal ship operators.

West Auckland ‘inland port’ among new transport options

NorthPort today. Photo / File.
NorthPort today. Photo / File.

BusinessDesk By: Gavin Evans

An inland port in west Auckland and a vehicle importing and servicing centre at Northport are among a dozen potential transport investments a working group is considering to improve freight handling in the upper North Island.

The group, formed last year, has spent the past eight months talking with users and imagining how the existing ports at Auckland, Marsden Point and Tauranga – and the road and rail links between them – could be reconfigured to provide the best options for long-term growth.

It plans to report back to the government in June with options and complete more detailed costings and recommendations in September.

“There are a large number of infrastructure options that may have a part or full place to play in changes to the upper North Island supply chain which will be considered,” chair Wayne Brown says in a progress report filed with Cabinet’s Economic Development Committee earlier this month.

“For example, in evaluating one of our options that involves moving some of Ports of Auckland’s freight task to Northport, we will consider potential infrastructure that may be required to support this,” the group says.

They include: “a spur to Northport, which we understand the current government is investigating; upgrades to the existing North Auckland Line; potential short-term operational changes, such as moving freight through Auckland on the commuter network at night; potential long-term new infrastructure requirements such as a new rail line out west of Auckland to avoid congestion in the Auckland public transport rail network and connect through to the current inland freight terminals; and the potential establishment of new inland freight terminals.”

The Upper North Island Supply Chain study was the result of a pre-election pledge by NZ First to move container operation from Ports of Auckland to Northport by 2027.

While there is broad consensus that Auckland’s port will be increasingly constrained by the city’s development around it, there is no agreement as to how soon change is needed, how much freight could be redirected through Tauranga or Northport, and how that would be achieved.

As recently as 2016 a study group recommended work start assessing Manukau Harbour or the Firth of Thames as long-term replacement options for Auckland. Last August, Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns said there wasn’t yet sufficient freight volume in Northland to warrant the relocation north. Port of Tauranga owns half of Northport.

Auckland and Tauranga are the country’s two largest container ports. With Northport, they handle about half the country’s exports and two-thirds of its import volumes.

Tauranga and Auckland, controlled by Bay of Plenty Regional Council and Auckland Council respectively, compete for freight. They considered a merger in 2006 but talks collapsed the following year. Ports of Auckland has a 20 percent stake in Northland Regional Council-controlled Marsden Maritime Holdings, Tauranga’s partner in Northport.

The working group noted submitters’ views that the “interwoven” nature of the three ports’ ownership had prevented them being developed in New Zealand’s best interests and had resulted in some inefficiencies and “duplication” of resources.

“We will be considering the current ownership structure of ports and whether a change may be needed to ensure interests are aligned to deliver the best outcome for New Zealand,” the group says.

“Councils were somewhat open to a change in port ownership as long as they preserved their income and value of the port to their community.”

Ports are long-term businesses. The working group is canvassing issues in 10-, 25- and 50-year timeframes.

Scope is also important. Freight operators argue Northport, west of the Marsden Point oil refinery, could meet growth on Auckland’s North Shore, rather than replacing Ports of Auckland entirely.

Short-term options could include establishing a distribution centre at Silverdale or Orewa; imports and Northland products could be trucked there overnight – avoiding congestion on SH1 – for day-time delivery into Auckland.

Northport already plays a similar role. Structural components for some major Auckland building projects are stored there for just-in-time delivery to avoid congestion in the CBD.

Car imports have already been identified as a potential early change. Ten hectares of new space at Northport could provide storage for 10,000 cars. Auckland currently receives about 300,000 cars annually, each of which spends close to three days on its wharves.

Northport started operating in 2002 and is largely a blank canvas. Its 49-hectare footprint can be expanded to 75 ha, while its berth length can be more than doubled to 1,390 metres. The port lies next to 180 ha of commercial and industrial land controlled by shareholder Marsden Maritime.

But it has limited capital for development and no rail link. KiwiRail and the Ministry of Transport are investigating a $200 million, 20-kilometre spur line, but that is probably more than six years away even if there was a prompt decision to proceed.

The existing line from Swanson to Fonterra’s Kauri dairy plant north of Whangarei also needs upgrading at a cost of another $500 million to carry larger and heavier container traffic. KiwiRail has previously estimated the total bill – including upgrading rail capacity from South Auckland – at about $2 billion.

The working group noted its “fundamental” belief that there is “no point making further investment in Northport without investment in, and development of, the train line to Auckland.”

Moving Auckland’s port – the curtain rises

Todd Niall08:22, Apr 29 2019

The future of a possible long-term shift of Auckland's port trade could be clearer with the Government's third report in September
SUPPLIEDThe future of a possible long-term shift of Auckland’s port trade could be clearer with the Government’s third report in September

OPINION: The first instalment of the Government’s trio of reports on re-shaping how the Upper North Island ports work, suggests that Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie trilogy will look like a snapshot compared with what lies ahead.

A 2017 New Zealand First policy to shift the vehicle import trade from Auckland to Northport by this year, as a prelude to re-locating the city’s port, begat – thanks to co-alition politics – the more cautious “Working Group undertaking the review of Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy”.

Shifting the balance of work between the ports, and building major new transport links would be the country’s biggest-ever infrastructure undertaking – possibly five or more times the current champ, Auckland’s $4.4 billion City Rail Link.

Major new rail freight links would be a prerequisite to a major shift of trade handled by the upper North Island's three ports.
SCOTT HAMMOND/STUFFMajor new rail freight links would be a prerequisite to a major shift of trade handled by the upper North Island’s three ports.

Taken at face value, the picture painted of the current state of the Ports of Auckland, Port of Tauranga, and Northport at Marsden Point, shows a flawed regionally-owned port sector with duplication and competition possibly at the expense of the national interest.

Auckland dominates imports, Tauranga exports, both have 40 per cent of their container traffic empty in one direction, while Northport is a distant minnow, with limited access and 70 per cent owned by the other two.

Marsden Point's Northport is where New Zealand First favours shifting trade from Auckland
SUPPLIED/NORTHPORTMarsden Point’s Northport is where New Zealand First favours shifting trade from Auckland

What began as a plan to free Auckland’s waterfront from an ugly industrial port, to the benefit of Northport, is now as much, if not more, about the transport links between the ports and centres in the upper North Island. 

A line highlighted in bold print in the 21-page report, points to the scale of making any change.

“We fundamentally believe that there is no point making further investment in Northport without investment in, and development of, the train line to Auckland.”

Call that billions of dollars, who knows how many, 2 or 5? The report doesn’t say.

Done properly it involves a crosstown section through southern Auckland, a third freight line through the commuter rail-dominated suburbs, electrification and double or triple tracking from West Auckland to Marsden Point with new tunnels along the way and presumably fleets of car-carrying wagons and handling facilities.

Future instalments of the trilogy will explore changing the ownership structure of ports, looking at the low-tax status enjoyed only by Auckland, and getting a clearer picture of future trade patterns.

Who knows what the future of the private motor car will look like in 20 years’ time, when the multi-billion investment needed to relocate the vehicle import trade, is ready to deliver.

The three-part study is an important piece of work, taking a long-term view on making possibly major structural change in transport links in the upper North Island, and its ports.

Part two outlining some options is said to be due as early as June, and part three – recommendations – in September, perhaps unhelpfully a month before the local body politicians who own Auckland’s port, and most of Tauranga’s and Northland’s, face re-election.

The interim report already casts doubt on the idea of building a new super-port either in Auckland’s Manukau Harbour or the Firth of Thames, hinting better use of the three ports may be the answer.

“We consider the issues not insurmountable,” concluded the working group’s interim report optimistically.

What it did not say was, nor are they likely to be simple, anything less than eye-wateringly expensive, and hugely complex. 

Loss of Auckland ports could cost ratepayers extra 4 per cent a year

The location of Ports of Auckland has prompted public debate about whether there are better alternative uses for the prime waterfront land. Photo / Jason Oxenham
The location of Ports of Auckland has prompted public debate about whether there are better alternative uses for the prime waterfront land. Photo / Jason Oxenham

By: Natalie AkoorieNZ Herald reporter based in Hamiltonnatalie.akoorie@nzherald.co.nz@NatalieAkoorie

Moving some or all of Auckland’s port out of the city and revitalising Northland’s port including building a rail line between the two are some of the options canvassed in a new report.

However, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has warned against the potential loss of income from Ports of Auckland if it were moved or downsized, saying if the annual $50 million dividend was lost it could lead to a 4 per cent rate rise.

The first of three progress reports by a working group tasked with investigating New Zealand’s upper North Island supply chain strategy outlines key information about the country’s three main ports: Ports of Auckland on the city’s waterfront, Northport at Marsden Point near Whāngārei and Port of Tauranga.

The ports are critical to New Zealand’s freight task and together account for half of the country’s total export volume and two-thirds of its import volume, in tonnes.

Port of Tauranga handled the highest volume of all New Zealand ports (in tonnes) and was the most successful of the three upper North Island ports having capitalised on rail infrastructure provided to the Bay of Plenty region by the Government.

“We will therefore be considering whether similar investment in Northland would provide similar results for the region and Northport,” the working group said.

The report, released by Associate Minister of Transport Shane Jones, noted that overall imports are expected to increase across all upper North Island regions while exports will increase initially before declining at Northport and Port of Tauranga, largely because of projected decline in log exports.

Northport from the air with the Marsden Point Oil Refinery in the background. Photo / Supplied
Northport from the air with the Marsden Point Oil Refinery in the background. Photo / Supplied

However, it said roading and rail in the Northland region was so lacking that the working group “fundamentally believe there is no point making further investment in Northport without investment and development of the train line to Auckland”.

“… it is generally agreed that the lack of rail infrastructure and connectivity to Northport has hindered Northland’s economic development.”

Ports of Auckland occupied 77ha of Auckland waterfront with a book value of $735m, though this was thought to be well below valuation of comparable industrial land.

“This excludes the massive social, cultural, environmental and economic value that would be created by transforming this property into a globally iconic waterfront,” the working group said.

Stakeholders including the ports, shareholders and the road freight and shipping industries named several issues surrounding the current port system including:

• They are competing and not co-operating;

• Lack of rail infrastructure and port connectivity had been a brake on Northland’s economic development;

• Unanimous support for a fully functioning rail system to the ports;

• Concerns over duplication of port and inland port assets;

• Congestion was the main problem for freight operators.

Options to make the three ports work better included the Northland to Auckland rail spur, a second route between Auckland and Tauranga, a freight corridor through West Auckland, a West Auckland inland port, an expanded or moved Southdown inland port, a new mega port in the Firth of Thames, a vehicle servicing and import facility at Northport and a New Zealand dry dock.

Goff welcomed the report but said it did not present an analysis of options, the business case for each and the impact of each option on Auckland, the region and the country.

“The relocation of the Port out of Auckland’s city centre has some clear advantages.

“It would ultimately open up 77 hectares of central city and harbourside land and wharves for alternative and potentially more valuable uses.

“As in other international cities, it could enhance the attractiveness of Auckland as a place to live, work, enjoy and to visit. It would also reduce congestion caused by freight movement and pollution from associated activities.”

A cruise ship docking at the Port of Tauranga. The port is the most successful for freight volumes in the country which many put down to a rail link. Photo / Alan Gibson
A cruise ship docking at the Port of Tauranga. The port is the most successful for freight volumes in the country which many put down to a rail link. Photo / Alan Gibson

However, he said as a city of 1.7 million people making up 35 per cent of New Zealand’s population, Auckland needed to have the most cost-effective and efficient way of delivering goods and services to its people.

“Vital to the decision of moving Auckland’s port is the impact of each alternative location on Auckland consumers and businesses.”

Aucklanders needed to know whether and how much alternative port sites added to costs for the city, Goff said.

“We also need to ensure that the working group on the supply chain strategy considers the value of the investment Aucklanders have made in their port and the dividend return they get from it which in past years has been $50 million – equivalent to a 3 to 4 per cent rate increase if that dividend is lost.”

Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns said the progress report identified well-known issues such as the need for increased investment in road and rail networks and the historic financial under-performance and inconsistent reporting by some ports.

He said Port of Tauranga challenged some of the “facts, assumptions and implications” in the interim report, and were hopeful they will be addressed before the next report.

“For example, the report states that the Bay of Plenty and Waikato have benefitted from rail infrastructure and investment provided by the Government at no capital cost to the end user.

“This ignores the $267 million in rail costs paid by Port of Tauranga since 2010.”

National’s Transport spokesman Paul Goldsmith claimed the interim report showed a “thinly disguised preference for massive investment in rail between South Auckland and Northport, leading to a shift of activity away from the Ports of Auckland to Northport”.

“It also seems to be peddling the concept of a nationalised ports monopoly in the upper North Island. There is no evidence or analysis to back up the suggestion that such a nationalised monopoly would be more efficient than current arrangements.

“There is no evidence to suggest the billions it would cost to upgrade rail from Auckland to Whangarei, plus building a new spur to Marsden point and a new freight line across Auckland, would be the best use of scarce transport resources and would lead to a better outcome for exporters or consumers.”

Goldsmith said the Government was “quite right” to be inquiring into the efficiency of freight movements across the NOrth Island and planning for the long term future.

“We support careful and considered planning of future investment. Which is why National has supported the Government’s planned Infrastructure Commission to advise on such things. The direction of this report, however, undermines the Infrastructure Commission approach.”

A second report outlining advantages to changing from the status quo, international comparisons and a long-term view will be presented to Cabinet in June.

The final report with recommendations for future development and strategy will be presented to Cabinet in September.

Upper North Island ports by the numbers

Northport

• Exported 3.25 million revenue tonnes in one year, mostly logs as well as kiwifruit, steel and woodchip;

• Imported considerably lower amount of 311,000 tonnes to June 2018.

Port of Tauranga

• Accounted for 43 per cent of New Zealand’s total export volume in year to June 2018;

• 55 per cent of exports are wood and paper products, majority of which are logs.

Ports of Auckland

• Second largest container port after Tauranga, Ports of Auckland is significant for imports because of the population it serves – 35 per cent of New Zealand’s population.

• Largest importer of vehicles. In year to June 2018, Ports of Auckland handled almost 300,000 cars, a 43 per cent increase from 2014.

• Ports of Auckland and Port of Tauranga have an import-export imbalance – Auckland has higher imports and Tauranga higher exports. It means about 40 per cent of 20-foot containers stand empty.

Ports of Auckland could become a make-or-break issue for the Coalition

An artist’s impression of a port-less Auckland. Graphic/Stop Stealing Our Harbour

An artist’s impression of a port-less Auckland. Graphic/Stop Stealing Our Harbour

New Zealand First appears as closed-minded on the Ports of Auckland as the other vested interests, who are either opposing change or advocating for alternatives.However dysfunctional those charged with providing vital transport infrastructure can be, they somehow always manage an instant massed-wagon-circling at the very mention of reform.

The Government is about to receive reports on both the future location of the Ports of Auckland and the feasibility of upgrading Northland’s rail. Labour’s support partner, New Zealand First, is fervently committed to moving some of Auckland’s port business to Northland, saying it will relieve our biggest city of congestion and bring much-needed growth to the north. For the coalition, this could become a make-or-break issue.

Unfortunately, NZ First appears as closed-minded on the issues as the other vested interests, who are either opposing change or advocating for alternatives, such as Tauranga, the Firth of Thames or Manukau Harbour.

Because of the complex governance and ownership issues of Ports of Auckland and other potentially affected ports and public entities, any Government changes will be extremely hard to negotiate. The choices available will also be sandbagged by the virtual impossibility of getting any case for new or restored rail to stack up financially.

However, the biggest hurdle will be patch protection – not just from commercial interests, but also from public agencies who too quickly forget the wider obligation that their state-conferred monopoly status puts on them.

Chief interested party is Auckland Council, which owns 100% of the Ports of Auckland. It has consistently defended its right to the port’s undiminished annual dividend of more than $50 million – to the point of vowing to build a multistorey waterfront car park for more revenue.

Mayor Phil Goff is adamant the port is essential to Auckland’s future. However, this assertion is debatable, given that a city such as Sydney survives very well with its harbour reserved for cruise ships and cargo sent to Port Botany, Wollongong or Newcastle.

Loss of port revenue would, however, doubtless force Aucklanders to pay for the loss with even higher rates, for benefits mostly accruing outside its boundaries. This would be unfair, especially to those on low incomes, and so politically dangerous that no sane administration would cause it to happen.

Perhaps a better starting point would be to regularise, even centralise, the haphazard patchwork of ports ownership. This would inevitably land the Government with a fat compensation bill, but the existing potpourri of local body, port-specific and private shareholders is a barrier to efficiency. Intra-agency competition and multiple interests – Auckland part-owns Tauranga’s and Northland’s port as well – further occlude the picture.

The National Party’s policy of treating the ports as discrete commercial entities immune from state interference is recklessly hands-off. But, by the same token, Aucklanders may be incensed at seeing their port asset commandeered, especially with NZ First so blatantly using Northland as its electoral base.

Yet, Auckland’s port must somehow be restored to being part of the national ports network. Aucklanders, used to the city’s infamous congestion, would be the first to agree it remains an international embarrassment that a prime waterfront site is used to store second-hand cars. Moving the port would unlock 77ha of superb shore land.

Northland’s Marsden Point tempts as an existing deep-water port, which, with a suitable rail spur from the Auckland line, could handle the business. Tourist and even commuter growth could ensue. Yet, there are other considerations, including the likelihood that moving the port to Northland would hugely increase congestion in Auckland, since most goods exported out of it are produced south of the city and would have to pass through it. Even if some of the goods went by train – and the expense of building rail tracks could itself prove prohibitive – the trains would be more frequent and longer, causing frustrating delays at level crossings. There are also the climate-change considerations, with increased emissions from transporting freight over longer distances.

In New Zealand, 99.7% of all imports and exports travel by sea, so the ports issue is not trivial. Any changes to these assets will affect, for better or worse, numerous other sectors and projects, not least the still-uncosted light rail to Auckland Airport. The sheer complexity and political risk may simply end in inertia. But everyone concerned has a duty to approach this debate with the country’s best interests at heart.

Tauranga leaders say port will thrive regardless of Auckland decision

Port of Tauranga. Photo / File
Port of Tauranga. Photo / File

By: Jean BellJean is a multimedia journalist for the Bay of Plenty Timesjean.bell@nzme.co.nzbay_times

Tauranga’s port will continue to “flourish” regardless of whether Auckland’s port moves, city leaders say.

But some warned infrastructure investment was needed to make that happen.

The comments come as the Government is poised to make a big call on whether or not to shift Auckland’s port to the economically-deprived region of Northland.

It followed New Zealand First leader Winston Peters vowing to move Ports of Auckland up north in 2017 and a Labour-led coalition Government leading a study into the three Upper North Island ports with a focus on moving Ports of Auckland to Northport at Marsden Point.

An interim report on that study by a working group headed by Wayne Brown, a former Far North mayor, had been provided to ministers and was due to go to Cabinet shortly.

Ports of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns said nobody had seen the recommendations yet, but he believed Tauranga’s port would continue to perform well whatever the outcome was.

He believed the port’s strong growth would continue due to Tauranga’s location as the origin of a majority of the goods exported out of the port are located south of Auckland, not north.

The port owned a half share of Northport, he said.

Tauranga mayor Greg Brownless said if the shift happened, it would not happen for some time.

Tauranga’s port would become busier if it did, due to its good reputation throughout Australasia, he said.

He did not think any increase in activity at the port would be short-lived as it had the capacity for double the number of containers currently moved there.

Congestion caused by inadequate roading would become an issue if Tauranga’s port did get busier, so investment into the city’s state highway, roading and rail network would be vital to cater for any increased freight activity around the city, he said.

He said the port would need to ensure the benefit would be shared with the community.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council regional transport committee chairman Stuart Crosby said it was too early guess what the impact would be, but he was confident Tauranga’s port would continue to operate successfully regardless of what happened up north.

“We have the best operating port in Australasia and it will continue to flourish in the future.”

The Government, however, did need to invest “billions of dollars” in infrastructure to keep up with the port’s development.

An aerial view of Ports of Auckland from the west.
SUPPLIED
An aerial view of Ports of Auckland from the west.

A rift has opened up between Auckland Council and the Government over how the future of the city’s port will be decided.

Mayor Phil Goff says there’s a risk that a Government-appointed working group looking at the upper North Island ports might have pre-determined whether Auckland’s council-owned port could move, and if so where.

Goff said he put a “robust” view to the working group’s chair, former Far North mayor Wayne Brown, in a private meeting last week.

A council commissioned study found shifting the vehicle import trade, could lose Auckland $1 billion
BEVAN READ/STUFF
A council commissioned study found shifting the vehicle import trade, could lose Auckland $1 billion

He said Brown’s public rejection of two potential locations identified by a council study didn’t give confidence, and the group didn’t appear to have enough time or resources to do a proper job.

The council on Tuesday approved a blunt letter to be sent to Brown, ahead of the council’s first formal meeting with the working group in just over a fortnight.

Goff favoured the eventual shift of the port from its current location on the downtown waterfront, but was unhappy with the approach being taken by the working group.

The council will tell the group that its priorities include protecting the value of Ports of Auckland, which last year paid it a $51.1 million dividend.

It is also telling the working group it wants a transparent, objective and evidence-based approach to reviewing the future of the ports in Auckland, Tauranga and Whangarei.

Auckland Council has conducted the most detailed work so far on the future of its port.

Previous mayor Len Brown funded out of his office budget the Port Future Study, which in 2016 found the port might not outgrow its current site in 50 years, but that work should begin on identifying alternatives, in case it did.

Before the 2017 elections New Zealand First advocated an early shift of the vehicle-import trade from Auckland to Northland’s port.

The coalition government including New Zealand First took a bigger picture approach, setting up the Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy working group, in line with a request from Auckland Council.

New Zealand First MP and Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones who oversees the working group, has since been vocal on matters relating to the future of Auckland’s port.

At the start of November Jones said he would do all he could to head-off a planned multi-storey carpark building planned by Ports of Auckland, to house vehicles arriving in the port.

“Public statements have created the impression of pre-determination,” said the council in a letter to the chair of the working group Wayne Brown.

Brown has made public comment favouring a move to Northland, including an opinion column published in November 2017 before being appointed to chair the group.

“Imagine the Auckland waterfront without used cars getting the best views,” Brown wrote.

“Watch for self-justifying job-saving promises from Ports of Auckland to fend off any sensible moves like Sydney has made keeping the harbour just for cruise liners and sending cargo to Wollongong and Newcastle.”

The council’s letter pointed to comments by Brown.

“Indicating a strong preference for relocation of some or all of POAL activities to Northport prior to any analysis is unhelpful,” said the letter which Goff will sign.

“Any plans to move all or some of the Port’s functions requires the concurrence of its owners, the people of Auckland, through Auckland Council,” said the letter.

“I’ve already said to the chair, we’ve put a lot of work into two future options (Manukau Harbour and Firth of Thames) and you’ve dismissed this out of hand, which gives us no confidence,” Goff told today’s planning committee meeting.

The council has spelled out 10 areas it wants the working group to examine closely.

These include the feasible capacity of all upper North Island ports, as well as the climate change impacts of moving freight to and from the ports.

It wanted work done on the social and community impacts of any change, and how and when a future new port would be funded.

The council will have its first meeting with the government’s working group on December 13.

 

New KiwiRail locomotives arrive

Four of the new DL locomotives arriving at the Mount Maunganui railyards yesterday, hauled by an earlier member of the class.
The latest batch of KiwiRail’s new DL class diesel electric locomotives has arrived at the Port of Tauranga.

The 15 engines, ordered in 2016, are joining the 48 the national rail operator already has on its books, bringing the total number in the class to 63. The first DLs arrived from Chinese manufacturer CRRC’s Dalian Locomotive Works in 2010.

After unpacking and initial testing at the Mount Maunganui KiwiRail yards, the locomotives will be transferred to Hamilton to be commissioned. They’re expected to see service on all main lines in the North Island, including the East Coast line through Tauranga, and the North Island Main Trunk.

The move to add a further 15 locomotives to the DL fleet was made by KiwiRail following its controversial decision to mothball the Main Trunk electrification, which is still expected to go ahead despite opposition from environmental groups and unions.

KiwiRail also raised eyebrows in deciding to stick with the Chinese manufacturer after earlier units of the class suffered from unreliability and asbestos contamination issues.

Last year the incoming Labour-led Government pledged to direct KiwiRail to reverse the decision to discontinue using electric locomotives on the Main Trunk, and has been criticised for not as yet acting on its promise.

The state-owned company said however that it needed the new locomotives regardless of the electrification issue to replace ageing engines in its fleet.

The Port of Tauranga has become a megachurch: too big to touch

Pipi beds die and algae blooms, but iwi are repeatedly told ‘there’s nothing to see here’, writes Graham Cameron. 

When the Tainui canoe entered Tauranga harbour a millennium ago, it had the misfortune to run aground on a then prominent sandbar called Ruahine that sat below the waterline between Matakana Island and Mauao.

The Tainui was refloated and continued on its journey; the incident in which the Ruahine sandbar was central is remembered in a well known Tauranga Moana tauparapara:

Pāpaki tū ana ngā tai ki Mauao, i whānekenekehia, i whānukunukuhia, ka whiua reretia Wahinerua ki te wai, ki tai wiwi, ki tai wawa, ki te whai ao, ki te ao mārama.

You may well hear that tauparapara at our marae, but you won’t see the Ruahine sandbar if you walk Mauao. By 1970 the sandbar no longer existed. It’d been destroyed in the process of widening and deepening the harbour and entrance for the establishment of the Port of Tauranga.

Our church is progress, and in the Bay of Plenty, the megachurch is the Port of Tauranga. Megachurches tend to not so much follow the law as create the law; the news that the Port of Tauranga has operated without a consent for stormwater for the past 27 years came as no surprise to tāngata whenua in Tauranga Moana.

The Port of Tauranga is a shining city on the hill. It’s the engine that drives almost everything here. Logs, kiwifruit, steel, palm kernel, coal and containers all flow in and out, like the lungs of our economy. Cruise ships visit in increasing numbers – loved by local retailers, despised by locals who remember a time when it was all for them.

The port is jobs, but not great jobs: casual, no longer zero hours but definitely not certain hours, de-unionised, long shifts and efficiency first. The port is jobs and the Port of Tauranga has kept bread on the table for many of our old people and our whanaunga since its inception.

For all intents and purposes, the Port is a religious idol in our privatised, profit, growth and market driven New Zealand. And like all true and holy idols, it’ll brook no opposition – it’s central to the power of the political and economic elite.

The Port of Tauranga is 54% owned by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council. The designation ‘regional council’ means that the 54% owner of the Port of Tauranga is also responsible under the Resource Management Act 1991 for managing the effects of using freshwater, land, air and coastal waters by issuing resource consents. For example, resource consents for stormwater discharge from ports.

Where parties fail to get a consent or follow the conditions of a consent, they can be fined or prosecuted. In 27 years of stormwater discharging into Tauranga harbour from the Port of Tauranga, the Bay of Plenty Regional Council has never fined or prosecuted the port.

The past 27 years are a series of false starts. The first consent lodged in 1998 never went anywhere because the port was slow in providing information requested by the council. The Regional Council then tried to couple the port’s consent with another for the Tauranga City Council. That failed because they couldn’t agree on who was liable for what discharge. Then it was revealed that Beca, contracted to do the consenting by the port, had lost the paperwork. The third application was lodged in 2013, but apparently nothing happened because of five years of consultation. We are now onto the fourth application. It is unlikely the port will be compliant this year.

When Radio New Zealand’s Checkpoint investigated this, everyone seemed disappointed with themselves, but not exactly up in arms. Stormwater doesn’t sound all that worrying. And the stormwater runoff from the Port of Tauranga is not notably toxic.

David Culliford looked into the stormwater runoff at the Port of Tauranga in his 2015 thesis ‘Characterisation, potential toxicity and fate of storm water run-off from log storage areas of the Port of Tauranga’. As best as anyone can tell, it’s all within acceptable limits, but Culliford’s work is clear that requires more research. The runoff from the log storage includes bits of wood, resins, chemicals and at times raw effluent. The runoff can slightly lower the pH of the water which is shown to affect the development and behaviour of marine life. There are periods of acute toxicity, particularly from raw effluent during storms. The runoff is detectable to over 60 metres, indicating there’s likely a wide spread of whatever impacts exist. At the moment there isn’t a good base of research as to the impact of dredging on sedimentation and toxicity. Which led to the conclusion that all is essentially well.

But sit at a table during a hākari at any of our marae, and we all know something is wrong. Pipi beds disappear. That’s not abnormal, but the increasing regularity and the size of the beds that have disappeared is a change. There are places where you don’t collect pipi anymore because they’re unsafe. There’s so much more sea lettuce than we ever had before. Algal blooms are normal; we are often told we can’t eat our kaimoana. Most people just ignore the warnings. And we’re told by our Port and our councils that it’s normal, that it’s seasonal, that it’s always been like this. It hasn’t always been like this.

The uncomfortable reality today is that the Port of Tauranga is too big to be allowed to fail and we can’t afford to stop its growth and development. You will hear few voices calling to limit the Port of Tauranga. Neither their majority shareholder the regional council, nor the local community given how many Mums and Dads have shares in the port, nor iwi.

Our iwi have not held the Port of Tauranga to account. Our lines of defence are quite literally in the sand; we have never halted anything the port wanted to do. If we are to be honest, we have always come around to an agreement with the port. The last instance was dredging that was consented in 2012 where the shipping channel was deepened by three metres to allow cargo ships with nearly double the capacity into our port.

This was only two years after the Rena had run aground on the Astrolabe Reef. As the consent was being considered, a cargo ship carrying logs lost power in the channel and threatened running onto the rocks of Mauao. The dredging at that time included the removal of a section of Panepane, a large pipi bed off Matakana Island.

Even in this instance, as iwi we followed our normal pattern: bold statements and threats of protests; submissions against the consents; the consent granted and challenged at the Environment Court; our agreement to a new oversight committee, some scholarships, the opportunity for shares, and research that will confirm there is nothing to see here.

All of us in the Tauranga Moana community bow our heads to our local religious idol. However passionately we love our harbour and our environment, in the end we are willing to accept the assurances of the Port of Tauranga that they have this under control. We hold these things to be true: the Port of Tauranga will protect the marine environment for us and provide excellent returns every year.

No stormwater consent can pretend to stand as a barrier to such an expression of collective faith. No fine can be allowed to tarnish the reputation of our regional economic saviour, washed clean by the millions of trays of kiwifruit. As we splash at the water’s edge this summer, we will look across to the white steeples of the cranes, and smile at our tamariki, warning them not to eat the pipi because of the algal bloom. And we’ll tell them, don’t worry, everything is going to be alright.