Update on Aratiatia access

Whitewater NZ Access Officer Matt Bennett has been following up on the Aratiatia situation and provides the following update:

Last month a group of kayakers including Ben Brown and other Red Bull athletes were unable to kayak at Aratiatia. The group initially paddled the lower section of the Aratiatia rapids on the Waikato River. It was a warm up run and their intention was to scout the full rapid and paddle it on the next release.

That was the plan. As they waited for the release a Mighty River Power (MRP) employee came out from the power station and chatted to them about their intentions. It seemed like a casual and amiable interaction. Then the Police showed up and the kayakers were told categorically that MRP would not be releasing the water while they were still waiting to paddle.

This is where it all gets complicated. There are a lot of parties involved. MRP has consent to control water on this section of the Waikato River. Part of the consent requires that they mitigate lost recreation opportunities and because it becomes a workplace for them they must manage safety at the site under the Health and Safety in Employment Act (HSEA). The consent is issued by Waikato Regional Council (WRC) under their waterways policy. They are required under Maritime NZ to manage waterways. MRP called WRC with a concern and because neither of the Taupo Harbour Masters were available the council recommended that MRP ask the Police to intervene.

We believe that MRP and WRC are confused over their HSEA responsibilities and how they are applying the legislation. The only real question is, "how are we going to respond?"

Our first step was to get the story from all the varying parties. Believe me, this was no easy task. Now we’re going to tackle this on three fronts. First we’re seeking legal advice on our rights. Second we’re going to actively engage with the Waikato Regional Council in the further development of their Waikato River Waterways Management Plan. And finally we are going to go to Mighty River Power and encourage them to be more inclusive of kayakers in their Aratiatia operation.

This will all take time. In the meantime you probably want to know what you should do. Simply, continue as normal. If you have an encounter with Mighty River Power staff, it is essential that you do not elevate the situation. Be compliant and take notes on who, where, when and what, and then email the details directly to me at access@rivers.org.nz. Most importantly, make good decisions on the water.