Walkway proposal gains some traction

Otago Regional Council contractors remove a log from the Sir Truby King bridge in Tahakopa earlier this month. Photo: Don Sinclair/Supplied
Otago Regional Council contractors remove a log from the Sir Truby King bridge in Tahakopa earlier this month. Photo: Don Sinclair/Supplied
A historic Catlins walkway project looks likely to take its next steps forward, following a community meeting last week.

In August last year, Tahakopa historian Don Sinclair told the Otago Daily Times he hoped to preserve a 103-year-old bridge fragment in the township, believed to have been built by New Zealand pioneer and Plunket founder Sir Frederic Truby King.

He proposed a 500m track along an unformed legal [paper] road from Tahakopa Rd to the bridge, and a new car park.

At the time, the proposal met with opposition from adjoining landowners, who accused Mr Sinclair of ''underhand'' behaviour in driving the project forward without full consensus.

But after a community meeting attended by about 40 townspeople on Thursday, Mr Sinclair said he now believed the project would come to fruition.

''Community members had some outstanding concerns regarding funding, safe access and maintenance, but I believe we can address those to everyone's satisfaction. We're not quite there yet, but I think now people can see what an asset this will be to the area.''

He said there would be no cost to ratepayers, as grant funding would be sought for track construction and fencing, and future maintenance would be volunteer-led.

Also at the meeting was South Otago Forest & Bird member, bat expert and Papatowai ecologist Catriona Gower, who spoke in favour of the project.

''The critically threatened long-tailed bat has been identified in Tahakopa, and this riverside track could become a fantastic resource for future education opportunities and scientific studies of the species. It also has some amazing specimens of native trees, like ribbonwood, matai and totara, that deserve to be preserved and enjoyed.''

She said she had put forward a proposal to South Otago Forest & Bird to help the project.

Neighbouring landowner Rachel Napier, who last year criticised Mr Sinclair's methods in promoting the project, said she and husband Craig had come to accept the proposal following Thursday's meeting.

''This has been the first real chance the community has had to consider the proposal and ask its questions. I don't think any of us are against preserving the history of the place, but people had some valid concerns which, for the most part, have now been answered. If it's going ahead, we just want it kept safe and tidy.''

Asked if the meeting had reconciled the Tahakopa community, she said friction remained with Mr Sinclair.

''There's a reason no other locals want to be involved with this project, and unfortunately it comes down to a long history of disrespectful behaviour.''

Clutha District Council chief executive Steve Hill, who also attended the meeting, said he expected a licence to occupy the paper road would be granted ''very soon''.

''We're looking forward to a satisfactory resolution for all parties.''

richard.davison@odt.co.nz

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