Last week Matt Bennett made a submission on behalf of Whitewater NZ to the Coroner's inquest into the death of Louise Jull on the Kaituna River. John Snook also made an independent submission. In doing so they became party to all other submissions (currently confidential). Whitewater NZ has sought professional legal counsel to aid in our submission.
Matt reports that the inquest on Wednesday 21 October went reasonably well with some good evidence being presented by a range of parties. Coroner Wallace Bain is questioning witnesses fairly and clearly looking to bring out a balanced view. Most problematic for the kayaking community was the evidence of Harbourmaster (James) Peter Buell who is advocating for the closure of Awesome, Gnarly, Smokey Gorges. The media have reported on this to varying degrees of completeness and accuracy.
At this point:
- The Coroner has adjourned the inquest in order to give a landowner and a logging operator the opportunity to respond.
- The Coroner has made no recommendations and has given absolutely no indication of the outcome.
- Matt Bennett has made a formal complaint to media outlets about factually incorrect reports.
- Matt has provided further information to the Coroner about misleading information presented to the court.
- Andi Uhl has continued to engage with the Regional Council regarding tree removal, with a noticeable increase in response from them.
It is important to know that any recommendation by the coroner is only that and is not enforceable on its own. That said, an unfavourable recommendation by the Coroner will strengthen the Harbourmaster's current position and Whitewater NZ are doing everything we can to encourage the Coroner away from this. At the same time, we are looking to actively engage in consultation with the Harbourmaster, and the Regional Council, to reach a mutually acceptable outcome.
John and Matt (representing Whitewater NZ) are still a party to the coronial court process so we must be respectful of that. It is important to know that Whitewater NZ are actively involved in working toward a positive outcome.
Just to be absolutely clear, the closure of the lower gorges is an unacceptable outcome that sets a dangerous precedent for rivers across the country from both an access and a conservation perspective. Whitewater NZ will be fighting this the entire way. We will let you, the kayaking community know, in what ways we need your assistance.
For now, we ask that you trust Matt, John, and the Whitewater NZ Executive to represent you in formal discussions with the Harbourmaster and Council staff (please don't contact them directly at this stage). Your letters of support, and written submissions all add weight to our case - so keep those coming! You can email them to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will collate them and present them to the Harbourmaster and Council staff on your behalf at the appropriate time.