ATCA Opposition to the Proposed 2017 Navigational Safety Bylaw

Executive Summary:

The Albert Town Community Association seeks the following decision from the Queenstown Lakes District Council:

1.    Refuse amendments to Schedule 2 - Speed Uplifting and Access Lanes, as it relates to the Clutha/Mata-Au River of the Proposed 2017 Navigational Safety Bylaw; and

2.     Add a new clause into the 2017 Navigational Safety Bylaw prohibiting any motorised craft operating between Lake Wanaka and the Albert Town Bridge; or

3.    Add a new clause into the 2017 Navigational Safety Bylaw restricting the speed limit to 5 knots from Lake Wanaka to the Albert Town Bridge at all times.

The Albert Town Community Association opposes the 2017 Navigational Safety Bylaw. Specifically, we are opposed to Schedule 2 - Speed Uplifting and Access Lanes as it relates to the Clutha/Mata-Au River. This schedule allows jet boats and jet skis to travel at unrestricted speeds from Lake Wanaka to the Albert Town Bridge in summer from 10am-6pm and winter from 10am-4pm. The current 2014 Navigational Safety Bylaw is similar and also allows unrestricted speeds from the Albert Town Bridge upstream to the 5 knot buoy just below the Outlet Campground. We have safety concerns with the Speed Upliftings in both the 2014 and proposed 2017 Navigational Safety Bylaws. We should note this stretch of river constitutes only 1% of the total 338-kilometre Clutha River.

The Clutha River from Lake Wanaka to the Albert Town Bridge is a well-known and popular multi-use section of the Clutha River. This section of the river is visited by thousands of bikers, walkers, joggers, fishers, kayakers, swimmers, stand up paddle boarders and rafters every year. Floating and passive use of this section of river is a time-honoured tradition for Wanaka residents and visitors. The number of people living and visiting Wanaka has grown considerably in recent years. This growth is also reflected in the passive use of the river. 

The number of motorised craft and passive users on the Clutha will continue to grow. The QLDC must commit to developing a long-term strategy, including safety bylaws for the waterways in the Upper Clutha with designated areas for passive use. This means listening to the entire community and writing new bylaws, not simply editing the existing 2014 Navigational Safety Bylaw or solely focusing on the incremental changes between the 2014 and proposed 2017 Navigational Safety bylaws. 

“It’s always been this way”, inability to enforce bylaws, or bylaw confusion are not reasons to keep or build upon an existing dangerous bylaw. This is the case for the proposed 2017 Navigational Safety bylaw, which merely extends the same unrestricted speed limits mentioned in Schedule 3 of the existing 2014 Navigational Safety bylaw. We need to determine the best way for everyone to safely enjoy the Clutha River from Lake Wanaka to the Albert Town Bridge based on where Wanaka is today. What the bylaws have said over the past 30 years is irrelevant. We must take a fresh look and base our safety bylaws on what our entire community needs to remain safe, based on our current population and river use patterns.

 

To be clear, the safest option for the Clutha river as it runs from Lake Wanaka to the Albert Town Bridge would be no motorised craft at any time. Council might believe this is not feasible for other non-safety related reasons, but if we are strictly discussing safety, this is the safest option. There is also plenty of jet boating water downstream from Albert Town. Council acknowledges this incompatibility in the Operative District Plan:

 4-44 “The Council considers there is an incompatibility between motorised craft and passive activities on the upstream stretch of the river. Downstream of Albert Town, the Clutha River is large enough and the pressures for use less intense, so that a wider variety of uses can be accommodated.” 

A motorcraft-free section of the river would be a unique attraction in New Zealand for both tourist and local residents, and again, we are only talking about a five kilometre stretch of a 338 kilometre river. A motorcraft-free section of the river would remove bylaw confusion and be easier to enforce. 

Another option would be restricting the speed limit to 5 knots from Lake Wanaka to the Albert Town Bridge (or the farthest downstream Albert Town residence) at all times. There will be reasons to oppose this option as well, but they will not be safety related. This would also naturally decrease the number of motorised craft in the area, making it even safer for passive use. It would also be prudent to remove all motorised craft from the small Albert Town Island swimming area. 

It is the Harbour Master’s personal opinion that a full speed jet boat on plane is more manoeuvrable and therefore safer where swimmers are present. The Harbour Master is also the author of the proposed 2017 Safety Bylaw and we are told will be an expert witness for the same bylaw. We have yet to find evidence to support the Harbour Master’s opinion that faster jet boats are safer when mixed with swimmers, and it seems to run counter to Maritime NZ navigational guidelines and 9.1 (a) of the proposed 2017 Navigational Bylaw. Both safety guidelines require a 5 knot limit when passing within 50 metres of a person in or on the water. This 5 knot restriction is nullified during the proposed unrestricted speed limit periods from Lake Wanaka to Albert Town during summer from 10am to 6pm and winter from 10am to 4pm.

Manoeuvrability and safety are not synonymous, which we have witnessed with several tragic boat accidents on the South Island in recent years. A boat traveling at 5 knots has considerably more time to dodge a passive river user, and if an accident were to occur the consequences would be far less dire. This is why we implement 5 knot speed restrictions in high traffic areas across New Zealand. The proposed 2017 bylaw also aims to simplify the current 2014 bylaw, which is needed. However, the primary purpose of the bylaw is safety, and the simplification of the proposed bylaw only extends unrestricted speed limits further up the river — it does not increase safety.

It is also of the Harbour Master’s personal opinion that existing Resource Consents for commercial jet boaters are at the “top of the pecking order” and impossible to change. First, our safety bylaws that protect our community would be at the “top of the pecking order” as is clearly stated in the aforementioned Resource Consents:

(22) In all other respects the consent holder shall comply with the relevant Council by-laws for waterways at all times, and all other regulations. 

Secondly, resource consents can and do change. In accordance with Section 128 of the Resource Management Act (RMA) which is also noted in the aforementioned Resource Consents:

The conditions of this consent may be reviewed within 10 working days of each anniversary of the date of the consent, if, on reasonable grounds, the consent authority finds that: (i) there is or is likely to be an adverse environmental effect as a result of the exercise of this consent, which was unforeseen when the consent was granted (ii) there has been a change in circumstances such that conditions of the consent are no longer appropriate in terms of purpose…

It’s important to note that the RMA defines the environment to include people and communities, as well as the social, economic, aesthetic, and cultural conditions which affect the matter (RMA Part 1,2 (1) Environment). The Wanaka district had less than five thousand residents when these Resource Consents were signed. Our drastic increase in residents and visitors has led to an increase in passive and motorised river users. This increase clearly constitutes an ‘unforeseen change in circumstances’, especially as it relates to the safety of the people in our community.

A key component to the commercial jet boat Resource Consents was the 5 knot speed limit on the upper stretch of the Clutha River. Unrestricted speeds would not have complied with the Objectives and Policies of the District Plan at the time, and therefore it is unlikely consent would have been granted. Consequently, the proposed amendment to Schedule 2 of the 2017 Navigational Safety Bylaw removes the 5 knot section of the Clutha. If accepted, this should justify a review of the commercial jet boat Resource Consents. We are not advocating for the removal these consents, merely establishing the fact that Resource Consents can be reviewed and amended and that they are not at “the top of the pecking order” as the Harbour Master suggested. 

Other safety options for the Clutha River from Lake Wanaka to the Albert Town Bridge might include restricting motorised craft during certain months or decreasing the uplifting times to allow more time for safe passive use of the river. The uplifting times could revolve more around passive river use behaviour and not cover most of the daylight hours as they currently do (summer 10am-6pm, winter 10am-4pm). As is, the uplifting times revolve completely around jet boats. This seems to run counter to the Operative District Plan, which repeatedly focuses on multiple use of our lakes and rivers, specifically on this section of the Clutha. 

The Council’s own Operative District Plan, which was overseen by our elected officials and drafted with considerable public consultations, discusses the uniqueness and value of this specific section of the Clutha River in detail. There are many guidelines in the Operative District Plan on how to manage this area, these guidelines also include noise pollution and environmental protection standards which are not covered by this bylaw. However, these standards are directly and negatively impacted by the proposed bylaw. And again, our ‘environment’ does include the safety of our people and aesthetics according to the RMA. The current and proposed Navigational Safety Bylaws do not align with the Operative or Proposed District Plan nor the Resource Management Act in any way. According to the Maritime Transport Act 1994, this is not allowed:

33M (2) (d) (ii) Navigational bylaws may not — be inconsistent with the Resource Management Act

If the bylaw is to reflect “what the community wants” as the Harbour Master suggests, the District Plan is a good indicator, and should be used as a blueprint to create a new, original bylaw.  

Operative District Plan - District Wide Issues

4-41 10 To protect the special qualities of the Clutha River upstream of Albert Town bridge and those recreational activities which benefit from those characteristics.

4-38 On the Clutha River, multiple use of the river by various users has been tried in the past with speed and time limits for motorised craft. However, there may be no potential for multiple use of this river in a way that is acceptable to all parties. Jetboating, even with speed and time restrictions, may inevitably adversely affect such a nationally regarded fishery or the experience sought by users of that significant waterbody. The complex speed and time limits also create uncertainty for river users and enforcement difficulties for the Council.

4-44 The special qualities of the Clutha River - its large volume, uncontrolled outlet, clear water, outstanding fishery, natural peaceful surrounds and accessibility - make it particularly suited to those recreational activities requiring and benefiting most from these qualities. Angling, non-powered boating, riverside walking and picnicking are the most suited activities to this river. In addition, the environment of Albert Town is most protected by such activities. The Council considers there is an incompatibility between motorised craft and passive activities on the upstream stretch of the river. Downstream of Albert Town, the Clutha River is large enough and the pressures for use less intense, so that a wider variety of uses can be accommodated. For these reasons, motorised boating on the upper reaches of the Clutha River has been restricted. 

4-42 i (c)To specify rules limiting or prohibiting motorised boating craft in areas of high passive recreation use, significant nature conservation values and wildlife habitat. 

4-43 In some instances where motorised craft will in most circumstances be incompatible with the values defined for the lake and river, motorised craft will be excluded from these lakes and rivers.

Also see 4-26 3.1, 4-41 5, 4-42 (i)e, 4-43

We must look to the future. Having more jet boats and jet skis traveling at unrestricted speeds in the same area as an increased number of passive users is an accident waiting to happen. Council must write an original, clear Navigational Safety Bylaw that factors in the needs and safety of everyone in our community.