Buller District Council

Media Release- ‘Time to face facts’: Mayor

18th August, 2017

Buller District mayor Garry Howard says it’s time to front up and openly debate whether or not the district can afford to keep the Kawatiri dredge.

Next Wednesday Buller District councillors will formally consider whether or not to sell the dredge which made Westport harbour viable for large cement ships.  With Holcim now gone, Howard believes selling it is “the only sensible option left” after fruitless years of searching for new bulk trade shipping opportunities.

“The fact is that keeping the dredge is costing Buller ratepayers more than a million dollars a year and that’s neither sustainable nor fair on the wider district,” Howard said.

“It’s been three years since Holcim announced it was pulling out of Westport. In that time we’ve been trying to find new trade for the port and other work for the dredge. But we’ve had only limited success and the reality is there is nothing guaranteed on the horizon.”

Holcim had previously covered the cost of the dredge and running the port. But with Holcim gone the Council-owned company Westport Harbour Ltd was facing a loss of over 1 million in the coming year that would be carried by ratepayers.  Keeping the Kawatiri would cost each Buller District ratepayer at least $140 per year, year-on-year “for absolutely nothing”.

Selling the dredge would halt ongoing losses that are neither sustainable nor provide any benefit to ratepayers, Howard said.

“We’ve done our very best but we can’t be hemorrhaging ratepayer money. We need to face the fact that times have changed and that a dredge of this size is no longer needed.”

Howard was aware of claims the dredge protects Westport township from flooding but independent specialists say that’s not the case.

“I respect that people have genuine concerns but our expert advice is very clear.  In terms of flood protection, the Kawatiri has absolutely minimal impact. We’ve been very diligent in assessing that.”

He said if a dredge was needed in the future, the Council or industry could contract one in or purchase a new one. In the past, the Kawatiri had itself been out-sourced to other ports but that work is not guaranteed and was not enough to justify keeping it.

The current dredge was purchased in 1979 by the Marine Division of the Ministry of Transport.  It costs around $270,000 a year just to maintain the dredge when sitting idle.

“We’re better to realise the asset and sell the dredge while it’s worth something.  The vessel has done its time but in my view, we should maximise the opportunity when it’s recertified in September. It’s like selling a car with a current warrant of fitness.”

If the dredge was sold, the mayor said the public should have a say on how the proceeds might be spent.  That process could be part of next year’s 10-Year Plan engagement process but would need to be supported by the Council, he said.

Selling the MV Kawatiri is supported by the Board and management of Buller Holdings Ltd, the Council’s commercial arm, as well as the chief executive Stephen Lowe.

At next Wednesday’s meeting, the Council will also consider a recommendation to wind up the port company – Westport Harbour Ltd – and put its assets and remaining operations into WestReef Ltd, another Council-controlled company.  Under that model, the lease of the port’s second vessel, the Bob Gower, would transfer to WestReef along with the existing land leases.

Howard said potentially affected staff were well informed about both proposals.

Click below for more information about this issue:
Information around the proposed sale of the MV Kawatiri dredge  (57Kb)

 

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