Stab Magazine | Spokesman For Wellington Airport Responds

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Spokesman For Wellington Airport Responds

Both sides of the story, right here: 

news // May 13, 2016
Words by Jake Howard
Reading Time: 3 minutes

The situation in New Zealand is a sheep joke shy of breaking into riot… kinda. Last week, Stab reported on the growing tension between area surfers and the Wellington International Airport Ltd (WIAL) over plans to extend a runway further into Lyall Bay. The development plan is expected to adversely affect surf spots in Lyall Bay. The hope is that this could be offset by engineering an artificial reef structure. That’s where things start to get murky.

The resident environmental group in the Wellington zone, the Surfbreak Protection Society (SPS), are asserting that WIAL is working on designing the artificial reef while attempting to get local regulations changed so they won’t have to actually build the project. After our original story went live a spokesman for the airport project, Greg Thomas, reached out to clarify their position. Essentially their argument is that because the threatened wave exists as a result of a manmade sea wall, no protection’s required.

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When you roll up to waves like this at your local, there’s nothing to do but get wet and be merry. Lyall Bay.

“The regional council in Wellington has proposed a new policy to protect surf breaks in the region that are the result of natural character,” explains Greg. “The airport supports the NZ Coastal Policy Statement where the government has identified and protected a number of surf breaks that are considered nationally significant. The proposed plan from the Regional Council has been designed to protect surf breaks that are a result of natural character and the breaks around the airport’s sea wall were created in 1960 when the airport was built, so are the result of reclamation and development, not fully from natural coastal processes. Because of the government’s existing policies and that the Corner in Lyall Bay is not the result of natural character the airport has submitted on the proposal that the Regional Council does not need an additional layer of protection.”

Mr Thomas continues to explain how the airport does indeed recognise the value of surfing and has in fact included a five million “wave focusing structure” as part of the extension plan. He also insists that throughout his group’s consultation with the Boardriders and SPS they have provided “all draft assessments for review and comment as well as funding for the Boardriders to have their own expert peer review our work.”

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This image encompasses the tip of a battle that’s sure to heat up. There will be drama.

Meanwhile, SPS Committee Board member David Boone says, “The WIAL are not actually pursuing loopholes within the Proposed Natural Resources Plan, rather they have formally made consecutive submissions to the Council to actually remove existing surf break policies that are in place – not just in close proximity to the airport, but surf breaks that are protected in the Greater Wellington Regional Council.”

“Of primary concern is The Corner, which is the premiere break in Wellington City and is the most vulnerable considering the swell corridor will be significantly altered from the extension,” continues David. “The Corner is a man made break that was born as a natural response to Airport construction in 1959 (when the existing Rongotai North South runway was assembled). It is a mean lefthander that barrels with a 1.5m-plus, S-SE swell and a northerly wind.”

“We still have many challenges ahead and will continue our mission to keep things best for surfers in the event the runway extension proceeds. SPS, and like-minded groups, are currently in the fundraising stage to budget/allocate our resources as we prepare to head in to Environmental Court. We are seeking assistance from ocean enthusiasts from all over as this project has the potential to effect so many within the greater surfing community and beyond.”

Is this is a world class spot? That isn’t the point. Development threatening to alter (or destroy) surf spots always matters.


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