Excitement is growing for the future of Whakatāne as resource consent is granted for the proposed $29 million boat harbour, Te Rāhui Herenga Waka Whakatāne.
The approval for the project from the Environmental Protection Authority - Te Mana Rauhī Taiao was announced this week.
The news is being welcomed by the partnership behind the project and the Eastern Bay business community.
The resource consent process was a major hurdle to be overcome before the first stage of the project, to create 70 new commercial berths on Māori trust land in Keepa Road, could go ahead.
Partnership chairman John Rae says the project team has worked closely with stakeholders to address the lack of maritime infrastructure in the town and provide an opportunity for the region through the maritime and tourism industries.
"Now our role is to ensure that, through good governance and planning, Te Rāhui Herenga Waka delivers to the strategic objectives of the project for its four partners - Te Rāhui Lands Trust, Whakatāne District Council, Government's Provincial Growth Fund and Ngāti Awa Group Holdings."
He says the project is "a very sound environmental proposition".
Te Rāhui Lands Trust chair Brian Simpson says sustainability considerations have been top-of-mind from the beginning, including both human and environmental aspects of sustainability.
"The boat harbour will start to restore both the mauri of the river, and the wellbeing of our people through employment and training opportunities, for future generations."
Whakatāne mayor Judy Turner says the construction and operation of the boat harbour will need involvement by people within the district.
"We are excited about what this means for the future," she says. "It enables the region to be home to a commercial marine hub that will create long-term job opportunities in the maritime and tourism sectors and provide critical infrastructure ... to support ongoing businesses in Whakatāne.
"Now we have resource consent approval, we want people to continue to learn more about the necessity for such a project in Whakatāne and why council has leveraged the Harbour Endowment Portfolio to co-fund the development alongside central government.
"The project is going to need people to operate the boats, to fix boats, to work in the boatyard, on the docks, in the marine training centre, to make and supply ice, to help run the fuel station, and to work in any food and beverage businesses that open up. We anticipate it will lead to hundreds of associated jobs in the coming years."
The partnership has predicted the project will create the equivalent of at least 30 full-time jobs during its construction and, longer-term, upwards of 600 new jobs and flow-on economic benefits.
Project director Phil Wardale says although he never celebrated until a project was completed, he's looking forward to the next stage of the project, engaging with local contractors, which he expects to start doing in August.
"I am certainly looking to use local contractors wherever possible, even if it means working with them to help build their capacity."
He says the fast-track consenting process has helped the region by providing certainty of timing.
"We thank all submitters who answered the call from the EPA to provide their views on the project.
"Many contributed their knowledge of the area, which has helped us to refine the project design to ensure it will perform to a very high level, particularly in relation to environmental matters regarding local water quality and ecology."
Kānoa, the regional economic development and investment unit of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is providing $19.6m of funding for the project.
A further $9.8m is funded by the district council through the Harbour Endowment Fund.
Subject to construction timelines, the first boats could move in early in 2025.
A robust package of over 100 consent conditions have been placed on the project, which includes setting up a project reference group, a tangata whenua liaison group, and a community liaison group, all of which will be established over the next six weeks.
The community can read more about membership of these various groups on the website.
Proposed harbour already benefits town
Whakatāne boatbuilder Glenn Shaw said the new boat harbour had started bringing additional jobs and opportunities to Whakatāne before it was even built.
"It's wonderful news for Whakatāne," he said of this week's announcement that resource consent had been granted. "There's been people trying to get a marina built for Whakatāne since the mid-1970s.
"I know there's a few doubters, but it's environmentally friendly and there's a lot of jobs that will come out of it. They've given some predictions about what they might be, and I agree that its' completely achievable."
He said his business, Extreme Boats, had already taken on more staff and was training a lot of apprentices.
"We train two groups of about 12 apprentices, two days a week. They're all local people; a lot of them Ngāti Awa."
Extreme Boats, located just outside town, has been building aluminium trailer boats for the past 20 years and recently developed a second brand, Legacy Marine, building larger 30- to 70-foot luxury motor yachts.
He said customers had paid deposits on seven Legacy boats before marketing had even begun.
It was work that Whakatāne would have missed out on if the boat harbour, with its boat lift, was not going ahead, as that side of the business could not operate successfully without a facility of this nature.
"We actually looked at shifting it to Tauranga, where there's endless marinas and travel lifts and servicing facilities. It reduces the cost of getting the boats to the water, but it also improves the workability and our ability to service them once they're on the water, and to teach that work in Whakatāne.
"I can't emphasise enough what a fantastic thing it is for Whakatāne. The construction alone is massive. It's fully funded, there's no cost to Whakatane locals, the land is not really used for anything much at the moment. It's a win-win really."
-Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air