‘We Don’t Know Who The Hell It Was’: Protester Objects To Injunction Bid

Published: Sun 2 Jun 2024 07:18 PM
A Rotorua iwi group fears council legal action will limit its ability to peacefully protest a sewerage project it believes poses pollution risks to a sacred lake.
Rotorua Lakes Council has applied to the Rotorua District Court for an injunction to stop “interference” with construction of the $29 million Tarawera Wastewater Reticulation Scheme.
The council said work was paused in January after “protest obstruction, interference with the work site and safety concerns raised by the contractor”.
The Lake Rotokākahi Board of Control manages the iwi-owned lake, also known as Green Lake. It held a protest against the scheme in January but a leader says this was peaceful and no one in its group was responsible for the incident that stopped the works.
The scheme would connect 446 Tarawera properties to the sewerage system at a controversial cost of about $50,000 each, or more if paid over time.
The first stage of the scheme began in April last year and included laying pipes along Tarawera Rd.
As grounds for its injunction application, the council claimed that between January 29 and February 1 “unknown respondents negligently, wilfully or maliciously stopped, obstructed or interfered with the works …”, and it expected this could continue when works resumed.
Its May 16 application sought orders under the Local Government Act to restrain respondents, described as “persons unknown”, from: stopping, obstructing, or interfering with the works; entering the work zone without authorisation; and stopping or obstructing authorised vehicles from accessing the work zone.
The work zone was defined as the Tarawera Rd worksite area used by council contractors and subcontractors and “identified by temporary traffic management delineators plus a 1m buffer zone around the perimeter of the worksite”.
The orders would be served by various public postings and by “emailing a copy to the subcommittee of the Lake Rotokākahi Board of Control”.
Council infrastructure and environment general manager Stavros Michael said in a statement the council understood some people did not support the pipeline and recognised people’s right to peaceful protest.
“However, [the] council is bound by legal commitments and we cannot now re-design or re-route the project, changing decisions made some four years ago which would come at a significant cost to the Tarawera community.”
The “well under way” project would protect people and the lake by stopping human waste from leaching into Lake Tarawera and was decided after “extensive community consideration” including input from iwi and hapū.
The injunction was expected to add $100,000 in legal costs.
[[[SUBHEAD]]] The protest
Lake Rotokākahi is in the Tūhourangi rohe and sits near the roading corridor the pipeline follows.
The tapu (sacred) lake is privately owned by iwi and no swimming or boating is permitted. It is overseen by the Lake Rotokākahi Board of Control.
Board co-chairman Peter Moke organised the January protest at the lake’s edge and said he believed no one in the group was to blame for the incident that prompted the council’s application.
“We don’t know who the hell it was … some little dumb s**t did something.”
The board had asked the council for evidence and he claimed it did not have any.
“They couldn’t even give us a photo.”
He said the protest was peaceful and prompted no complaints or arrests.
When Local Democracy Reporting visited the protest on its first day, protesters stood by the lake waving flags and signs. Moke said about 50 people attended that day.
Moke said if the injunction was granted, he believed the group would not be able to protest without repercussions.
He said the board was still concerned about the impact any potential break in the new pipeline would have on the tapu lake, and how any pollution would be cleared.
It planned a hui to discuss its response to the application, he said.
In response, Michael said the council did not wish to apportion responsibility for the interference incident but had provided the court with video and photos.
“The application does not name anyone or any group.”
The application did not seek to stop people from expressing their views as long as this did not impact the council’s ability to undertake its legitimate works safely.
”The scheme network, once operational will be guided by appropriate maintenance and response procedures as required for all such networks.”
Michael called the injunction a pre-emptive step to prevent a safety risk or damage to public assets.
It would also make protesters and contractors aware of the boundaries, he said, and aimed to avoid delays and minimise extra costs.
“The issue is not protesting, but rather physical interference and actions that put workers and public assets at risk. The injunction application aims to eliminate these behaviours.”
The district court will consider the council’s application and any opposition before making a decision.
Any order would be enforced by police or the courts.
Laura Smith - Local Democracy Reporter
Content from the Local Democracy Reporting (LDR) service is published by Scoop as a registered New Zealand Media Outlet LDR Partner.
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