Privatised ownership of wharf floated

The lone wharf on wildlife sanctuary Ulva Island/Te Wharawhara could soon be privately owned if a family trust gets its way with the district council.

Last September, Southland District Council (SDC) put restrictions on the wharf at Post Office Cove after an assessment showed it had reached the end of its useful life.

With the closure date of March 31 looming, the Hunter Family Trust — which owns the land the wharf is situated on — hopes it can step in.

A report for the Stewart Island/Rakiura Community Board said trust representatives contacted the council in late December about the possibility of taking over the wharf.

"The trustees are concerned that SDC’s proposed closure of the Ulva Island wharf will cause significant issues with access to the island for the Hunter family, commercial users, Doc and the general public," the report said.

In its proposal, the trust offered to take over ownership from the council while leaving it open for both public and commercial use.

Existing council conditions would remain, significant repairs would be worked through with commercial users, and the trust would take over risk for the structure.

The offer is a twist in the ongoing saga for the council which had previously stated its preference for a new wharf at nearby Bathing Bay.

That piece of infrastructure — expected to cost around $1.5million if it went ahead — still had question marks hanging over its funding, however.

A potential $600,000 was available from a successful Tourism Infrastructure Fund application and about $300,000 had been allocated from the Stewart Island Visitor Levy.

But if other applications were not successful, the community would be rated on a loan to complete the project, on top of being responsible for maintenance once it was built.

The Bathing Bay option also required the construction of a new section of track about 400m long to link to an existing network.

While Doc had agreed in principle to take over ownership and maintenance of the proposed track, it would not fund the project.

In the report, the council addressed both pros and cons of ceding ownership.

If the trust took over, the council would no longer be responsible for the wharf and would not need to construct a new track.

At the same time, there was no guarantee a final agreement would be reached, which could cause delays and put external funding in jeopardy.

The decision on whether to invest in a replacement of the wharf was a "complex one", the report said, with a number of factors at play including land tenure, consents and funding.

Other factors to consider included a requirement to remove the wharf after its closure, which would incur additional cost.

There was also a possibility the causeway it attached to was built prior to 1900, meaning Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga would need to authorise demolition.

An extraordinary Stewart Island/Rakiura Community Board meeting has been set for Thursday at 7.30am at the Pavilion (Stewart Island/Rakiura) to discuss the proposal.

The meeting will allow the board and community to consider the proposal before providing feedback to council. — LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.