Friday, 15 March 2019

The Battle for Rangataua Bay

Maungatapu, c.1960
Image courtesy of Tauranga City Library, Ref. 00-152
Our home in Welcome Bay looked out over beautiful Rangataua Bay and after I had heard the following story recalled by Carole Gordon I would often feel a wave of gratitude to those earlier settlers who put up a brave fight to prevent sewage being pumped into the bay.

In Carole’s words “I can’t remember the year when the fuss about the state houses actually began.  I think Jim Keam’s little subdivision had been put in when the Housing Corporation bought the low-lying tidal swamp below for a housing site.  The town was growing rapidly and there wasn’t enough housing so they were looking for cheap land.  When the swamp site at Welcome Bay was announced as a state housing site, local people were shocked.  We all knew that it filled up with water after storms or when there were high tides.

The Bay itself at the very end of Waitaha Road was very open and there was a real beach down in front or slightly to the left of the hall where a culvert went under the road; it took natural drainage from the swampy lower-lying land at the end of the road.  Children played there when they got off the school bus or kids from around the district would play down there on the beach.  As local people, we were very honest when we said that that was the children’s beach and that they were going to foul it by putting a sewage outlet there, from the proposed state housing subdivision.

The Demonstration
Image courtesy of Carole Gordon
This was the beginning of a long legal and heartfelt journey, people versus the state, to save Welcome Bay and the great harbour environment. The outcome was that the people prevailed and the city won an amenable government loan to the city sewage system that would replace septic tanks and avoid the leaching into the harbour.  Welcome Bay got a system of filter tanks and pumping stations that lead to Chapel Street.”

But in case the battle should appear easy this was far from the reality.  The fight went right through to the Environment Appeal Court but it began as “a spontaneous, organically erupting process.  It was totally the people, Maori and Pakeha, old and young, farmers and professionals, scientists and mothers, step by step, one challenge after another, learning as we went.  The issue of sewage disposal catalysed the Welcome Bay community.  A loosely connected action group formed in order to object to environmental effects.  Simply put we had to build a case that there was insufficient water flow.

Officials Discussing the Problem
Image courtesy of Carole Gordon
The scope of building the case grew as the process went through various legal processes.  The successful outcomes from the project are due to the many community volunteer hours, to the legal profession of Tauranga who gave services including Environment Court hearings and the DSIR scientists who freely gave advice as we undertook regular scientific testing such as coliform counts on the harbour perimeters. Over time testing revealed alarming levels of seepage from septic tanks. The houses on Waitaha Road sat empty while the process went on and on.”

George Gair, Minister of Housing, Addressing the Crowd
Image courtesy of Carole Gordon
The culmination of the project came when Bob Owens, the Mayor at the time, invited George Gair, The Minister of Housing to view the march and speak to the people.  The Bay of Plenty Times had been very supportive, carrying the story through to its conclusion.  Local bus companies offered free buses for all who wanted to be part of the event.  St Mary’s Catholic School was involved because they were feeling the effects of pollution on their foreshore.  They closed the school for the day and teachers, parents and children made a great sight as they walked across the harbour to Welcome Bay.

The march went from Maungatapu to Welcome Bay and in the end the decision was made on the day. George Gair came with a solution which he and Bob Owens must have worked out, which was to offer the council a low interest loan for sewage reticulation.  A victory for Welcome Bay and for the harbour.

Reference

A History of Welcome Bay, by Peg Cummins, 2015, ISBN 978-0-473-31165-0

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