29 Dec 2014

Weathering storms in Northland

5:56 am on 29 December 2014

It has been a year of weather extremes in Northland with storms of different kinds also making the headlines.

Protesters in Whangarei.

Hapu take to the streets of Whangerei to protest the handling of Ngapuhi's treaty claims - one of several conflicts to make headlines in the region in 2014. Photo: RNZ

The year 2014 kicked off with one of the longest hottest summers on record, bringing with it another drought for Northland's west coast and the discovery of a Queensland fruit fly in Whangarei.

Tropical cyclone Lusi lashed the region's east coast in March, cutting power to many homes and causing storm surges that flooded basements in Paihia.

That brief storm turned out to be just the curtain raiser for the main event. On 8 July, Northland was hit by a major storm that battered the region for five days and did millions of dollars worth of damage to farms and roads.

The storm took one life: 27-year-old Northland woman Talia Smith, who was swept away by the flooded Waitangi River.

Flooding at Hukerenui, Northland.

Flooding at Hukerenui, Northland, during the storm that hit the region in early July. Photo: Northland Regional Council

A slip at Mangakahia Road, in Northland, is cleared.

A slip at Mangakahia Road, in Northland, is cleared. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

A storm of a different type has wracked the people of Ngapuhi since the Government announced, at Waitangi, that it was accepting the mandate of the runanga-led board Tuhoronuku to settle the tribe's treaty claims.

Many of the 100-plus hapu who make up New Zealand's biggest tribe have said Tuhoronuku cannot represent them.

The hapu are now awaiting a decision from the tribunal, which could delay settlement.

The Queensland fruit fly (Bactrocera tryoni).

Two Queensland fruit flies were found in Northland in 2014, prompting a biosecurity scare. Photo: James Niland

In April, the horticultural industry was rocked by the discovery of a second Queensland fruit fly in a garden overlooking the Whangarei marina.

Fortunately, the fruit fly turned out to be a male loner, but MPI has stepped up its scrutiny of the overseas yachts that arrive in the north every summer to wait out the cyclone season in the Pacific.

There has been official scrutiny also of Northland's two charter schools - which opened in January. New Zealand Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) members at other Northland secondary schools refused to support the new Kura Hourua o Whangarei Terenga Paraoa, saying charter schools undermined the public school system.

The kura began life as a leadership academy, based on the disciplines of Northland's famous Maori Battalion A Company. As a school, it's passed its year-end ERO review with flying colours, and has won approval from the Government to open a primary school in Whangarei in 2015.

Northland charter school Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru.

The survival of Northland charter school Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru is uncertain after a difficult first year. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

The report card's not so good for the isolated Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru, south of Russell. It's been plagued with difficulties from day one; its ERO review's been delayed to give it more time to sort some of its problems, and its survival is by no means guaranteed.

Northland principals, especially those in low-decile schools, have objected this year to the levels of funding given to charter schools.

More coverage of the charter schools' performance:

In the courts, the parade continued of men in positions of trust charged with abusing children.

Northland police said the apparent rash of cases suggested more young people have found the courage to speak out since the Pamapuria teacher James Parker was imprisoned last year for sexually abusing boy pupils over more than a decade.

In May, Taite Kupa was jailed for 14 years for raping and abusing children in his care as co-manager of a Child, Youth and Family (CYF) home in Whangarei.

The case prompted questions about CYF's competence in screening caregivers and monitoring their performance.

The admission of a top Northland detective that he'd stolen drugs from the police station and sold them, sent shock waves through the community in December.

Mike Blowers - the former head of the region's drug squad - was sent to prison this month for four years and nine months.

He was just one day into his jury trial when he changed his plea to guilty.

A model of the proposed arts centre.

A model of the proposed arts centre, which is due to be the subject of a public referendum in February. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

And another year's gone by with no decision on whether Whangarei should build the colourful and quirky Hundertwasser art gallery, at the town's waterfront.

The council is split eight to six against the project even after a group of art lovers, tourism operators and business people offered to raise the money to build it. The question goes to a public referendum next February.

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