Fish & Game wins but may yet lose out

Otago Fish and Game operations manager Ian Hadland looks forward to starting work on reflooding...
Otago Fish and Game operations manager Ian Hadland looks forward to starting work on reflooding the Takitakitoa wetland. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
A two-year fight to enhance a lower Taieri swamp is over but Fish and Game Otago hopes it will not have to foot the entire bill for the consent process.

A possible ''five-figure'' cost for the consent process for the 60ha Takitakitoa enhancement project was daunting, Fish and Game operations manager Ian Hadland said.

''We don't want to be walloped for every penny. I'd much rather see precious funds sunk into planting and fencing rather than consent fees.''

Fish and Game already faced costs of about $7000 for its failed attempt to get resource consent for the project two years ago but had yet to receive the bill for the latest consent round.

The consent costs would have to be funded by Fish and Game's reserves from licence fees but the development of the wetland itself would be funded by grants from the Game Bird Habitat Trust, he said.

The project was delayed after the Otago Regional Council informed Fish and Game it would probably notify its consent application and also oppose it under its wetland rules, which classed it as a significant wetland.

''Changing from one wetland type to another was interpreted a bit narrowly as a non-complying activity and consent was initially not granted,'' Mr Hadland said.

However, since then the regional council had amended its wetland provisions to allow for projects which improved wetlands. Previously, the rules presumed any change to a wetland's state would be negative.

''The rules are tight for compromising the values of the region's remaining significant wetlands and we totally support that principle.

"We just never expected that to become an impediment to improving the condition of a wetland and that caused a lot of angst, costs and delays.''

Fish and Game regarded the second application for the wetland project, in which 32ha of the drained wetland will be reflooded, as a ''test case'' for the new wetland rules.

He wondered if it was fair for the council to impose on the consent applicant the entire costs of interpreting its own plan.

''We hope they'll take a pragmatic view of a project which is delivering benefits.''

Other regional councils had provisions for rebates for similar projects which had community outcomes, he said.

Fish and Game had begun preliminary work establishing site access to the wetland and hoped this summer to begin construction of a 350m-long bund, thanks to the trust's $29,000 grant, he said.

Another grant would follow next year.

The remainder of the bund would be constructed next summer.

''It'll be two years away before there will be any water behind the bund.''

The aim was to improve wildlife and fisheries habitat.

Otago Regional Council policy, planning and resource management director Fraser McRae said the council did not see the consent process as being a ''test case'' and the council had no policy for offering rebates for consent fees relating to projects with community benefits.

''A policy would have to be developed and go in front of council and we wouldn't do that on the fly.''

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