This footbridge in Forest and Bird’s Onetangi Reserve was destroyed by the autumn weather events. Photo Hue Ross

Whether and how ratepayers should fund track maintenance in Forest and Bird’s Waiheke reserves that are part of Auckland Council-promoted walks was central to a Waiheke Local Board decision last week.

The environmental charity’s Onetangi Reserve is a key section of the Te Ara Hura and Coast to Coast walkways. A bridge on one track in the reserve was washed away during the autumn deluges. On the other, an old walking bridge does not meet the building code and is well overdue for replacement.

Another section of Te Ara Hura between Roy Nelson Gate and Pohutukawa Ridge in the reserve, known as the Stream Walk, has had a number of washouts resulting in three boggy areas.

The Hauraki Islands branch of Forest and Bird requested $11,700 plus GST from the local board’s community response funding round to pay for two replacement footbridges and a track section upgrade. The local board declined the application, instead requesting that “council explore entering into a formal arrangement with Forest and Bird on the maintenance of tracks on its land which are part of Te Ara Hura Walkway”.

Branch secretary Hue Ross says the Forest and Bird reserves are owned, and maintained mostly by volunteers, for the benefit of the public. “As far as I know this is the first time the branch has requested, rather than been offered, funding for maintenance of tracks on our reserve forming part of council promoted walkways. The walks within the reserve are popular with visitors to Onetangi”.

Local board chair Paul Walden is not unsympathetic but considers the community response funding round, drawing on a discretionary pool of money, is not the right place to seek a payment for this work.

“I recognise the significant contribution Forest and Bird make to our public walking network,” he says. “Why is it acceptable for council to cover costs of maintaining tracks in land owned by the Crown but not land owned by Forest and Bird and made available to the public for public access?”

Mr Walden says there is recent precedent to support the organisation’s request for funding. “We have recently partnered with Forest and Bird to upgrade a track through Atawhai Whenua Reserve at Matiaitia. It was funded by the council and the agreement has attached to it an annual maintenance budget.”

Ultimately, for Mr Walden the funding request raises two further questions – from where should the funding come and what is the relationship between council and the environmental organisation as a landowner?

“If Forest and Bird are seeking ongoing support for trail maintenance, the view of the board is ‘yes, we support that outcome’ but the conversation needs to be had within the broader council organisation.

“And Forest and Bird needs to do some soul searching as well and consider whether it wants to be in some formal partnership with council.”

The only problem for users of the tracks, who would like a safe creek crossing, is just where that conversation needs to be directed within council. Mr Walden acknowledges a recent restructuring within the council parks department may have caused confusion in terms of determining where decisions should be made.

Forest and Bird has decided not to wait. The remaining bridge is a health and safety issue, Mr Ross says, and temporary improvements have been made to it. The branch committee has decided to give priority to replacing both bridges at Forest and Bird’s cost if necessary, while seeking a longer term consensus with the council around funding.•

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