19 Aug 2017

Buller considers selling dredger, port company

6:36 pm on 19 August 2017

Questions remain over the future of the port of Westport a year after cement firm Holcim pulled out of the region.

Kawatiri Dredge entering Westport.

Kawatiri Dredge entering Westport. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

With Holcim now gone, council-owned company Westport Harbour is facing a loss of over $1m in the coming year that would be expected to be carried by ratepayers.

At a meeting on Wednesday, the council is set to consider a recommendation to wind up the Westport Harbour company and put its assets and remaining operations into WestReef, another council-controlled company.

In particular, Buller District Mayor Garry Howard said the council was thinking about selling the dredging vessel Kawatiri. The ship made Westport harbour viable for large cement ships but is now costing ratepayers about $140 a year each, he said.

Mr Howard said selling Kawatiri would be a last resort after years of searching for new bulk trade shipping opportunities. Holcim had previously covered the cost of the dredge and running the port.

Holcim Cement  in Westport.

Holcim Cement in Westport. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

"The fact is that keeping the dredge is costing Buller ratepayers more than $1 million a year, and that's neither sustainable nor fair on the wider district.

Buller District mayor Garry Howard.

Buller District mayor Garry Howard. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

"It's been three years since Holcim announced it was pulling out of Westport. In that time we've been trying to find new trade for the port and other work for the dredge, but we've had only limited success and the reality is there is nothing guaranteed on the horizon."

Mr Howard said it had been outsourced to other ports such as in Nelson, but that work was not enough to justify keeping it.

"We've done our very best, but we can't be haemorrhaging ratepayer money. We need to face the fact that times have changed and that a dredge of this size is no longer needed."

Mr Howard said he was aware of claims the dredge protected Westport township from flooding, but independent specialists said that was not the case.

"I respect that people have genuine concerns but our expert advice is very clear. In terms of flood protection, the Kawatiri has absolutely minimal impact. We've been very diligent in assessing that."

He said if a dredge was needed in the future, the council or industry could contract one in or buy a new one.

Under the proposed model, the lease of the port's second vessel would transfer to WestReef along with the existing land leases.

Mr Howard said potentially affected staff had been told about both proposals.

He said if the dredge was sold, the public should have a say on how the proceeds might be spent. That process could be part of next year's 10-year plan budgeting process.

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