‘Think big’ airport leaves locals cold

Do all flight paths lead to Tarras airport? PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Do all flight paths lead to Tarras airport? PHOTO: SUPPLIED
For good, or bad, these "newsmakers" were the people making headlines in 2023.

Central Otago "think big"-style development stories set the ink on fire last year, but Christchurch International Airport’s (CIAL) proposed Tarras Airport is perhaps the most combustible story.

Others include the protection of the Manuherikia River, a likely gold mine at Bendigo, and the Lake Onslow hydro-dam and battery — though the latter is less inflammatory now the new government has said it’s not interested.

The newsmakers’ spotlight is shining squarely on Sustainable Tarras spokeswoman Marilyn Duxson, one of the leaders in what is likely to be an expensive standoff against CIAL airport project director Rhys Boswell among others.

She alleges CIAL is not communicating, the airport proposal would not meet climate change imperatives and the airport would be a "billion-dollar white elephant" for Christchurch.

The financial case for the airport is not yet available but it already has a big numbers boggle appeal.

Marilyn Duxson
Marilyn Duxson
CIAL earned a $36.8 million net surplus for its year ended June 30, 2023.

In 2020, it spent at least $45m buying Tarras land.

It has spent lots more since on feasibility studies and will likely spend lots more again if the new airport goes ahead.

It is clear Sustainable Tarras, a grass roots organisation that has already organised petitions, released videos and protested outside the Tourism NZ awards last week, will face an expensive standoff against its millionaire neighbour.

Ms Duxson will be calling for support if or when the time comes to go to the Environment Court.

"We’ll be working with volunteers and as much money as we can raise."

"We've been steeling ourselves for it ever since they announced the airport.

"We're willing to fight it every inch of the way and we just hope the people of New Zealand, and particularly the people of Central Otago, will help us keep this behemoth out of our beautiful place."

Rhys Boswell
Rhys Boswell
Mr Boswell has acknowledged the airport debate is unpleasant but hopes things can be soothed over cups of coffee or five-hour drop-in meetings, when people can turn up when they like.

He told the Wānaka Business Chamber in July tempers tended to flare at town hall-style meetings, so CIAL would not do those.

"We made the decision early on after the first [community] session that a town hall-style meeting is not especially productive.

"We listened to people give us views on how they wanted to be engaged with on this project and it was not in a town hall environment," he said.

CIAL’s last series of drop in meetings were in August, at Tarras, Cromwell and Wānaka, all between 2pm and 7pm.

A preferred runway alignment was released and attendees were free to absorb the information as they wished, Mr Boswell said.

CIAL has recognised an airport would change the Tarras environment, similarly to how the Clyde Dam changed Central Otago.

As the owner of 800 hectares, it wants to be a good neighbour so has set up a $30,000 community fund for Tarras projects.