Crowded camp a con­cern

Sur­vey of free­dom camp­ing site finds no pub­lic health nui­sance

Nelson Mail - - Front Page - Cherie Sivi­gnon cherie.sivi­[email protected]

A sur­vey to de­ter­mine in­fec­tious dis­ease risk at a pop­u­lar free­dom camp­ing spot in Golden Bay has given it a clean bill of health.

But Tas­man Dis­trict’s mayor has agreed with Bay res­i­dents that the num­ber of peo­ple us­ing the site dur­ing the sum­mer peak was ‘‘not ap­pro­pri­ate’’.

The sur­vey of the Waitapu Bridge site on Mon­day morn­ing by an en­vi­ron­men­tal health of­fi­cer found no ev­i­dence of any pub­lic health nui­sances. A small amount of toi­let pa­per with some fae­cal mat­ter was noted un­der the bridge.

‘‘This is likely to have arisen from peo­ple who did not want to walk across an un­lit camp­site in the mid­dle of the night,’’ the sur­vey re­port says. ‘‘While it is not de­sir­able, it was not of a level to be deemed a pub­lic health nui­sance.’’

There are three toi­lets at the site, which is lo­cated be­side the Takaka River. The en­vi­ron­men­tal health of­fi­cer sug­gested an ex­tra toi­let for the peak of the sea­son. ‘‘This may pre­vent peo­ple toi­let­ing un­der the bridge dur­ing the night.’’

Mayor Tim King said an ad­di­tional toi­let was be­ing in­stalled us­ing cen­tral gov­ern­ment fund­ing.

The re­port says one per­son was seen bathing in the river with soap, an­other was brush­ing their teeth, and two peo­ple were wash­ing dishes.

‘‘As my visit took place late in the morn­ing, most of the overnighte­rs had moved on,’’ it says.

King said the sur­vey re­port had been shared with the Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer of Health. It was also re­leased to Stuff on re­quest.

It comes af­ter con­cerns from Golden Bay res­i­dents and iwi about pol­lu­tion and health and safety at the site, prompt­ing calls for it to be closed to camp­ing.

Res­i­dent Ron Eck­man made one such re­quest, say­ing ve­hi­cles and tents this month were ‘‘crammed tightly into al­most ev­ery avail­able space’’, with an es­ti­mated 300 peo­ple packed into the pop­u­lar spot.

Pho­tos he took showed toi­let pa­per and fae­ces, in­clud­ing what ap­pears to be di­ar­rhoea, on the ground.

Eck­man also said he be­lieved it was ir­re­spon­si­ble of the coun­cil to al­low free­dom camp­ing at a site that was prone to flood­ing.

His push for the clo­sure to campers comes af­ter Nga¯ ti Tama ki Te Wai­pounamu Trust called for a ban on overnight camp­ing at the site, say­ing it must be pro­tected from fur­ther degra­da­tion and pol­lu­tion.

The call from iwi came in a sub­mis­sion on the coun­cil’s draft Re­spon­si­ble Camp­ing Strat­egy. Rec­om­men­da­tions from the hear­ing panel about the draft strat­egy are due to go to the coun­cil in early 2020.

King said iwi had also raised con­cerns more re­cently in light of a large num­ber of campers us­ing the site ei­ther side of New Year.

De­mand had been high, with num­bers ‘‘at ex­treme lev­els of 150 ve­hi­cles’’ a night, the mayor said.

The coun­cil agreed that this num­ber of campers was ‘‘not ap­pro­pri­ate’’, and had been work­ing through op­tions.

‘‘We take the con­cerns from the res­i­dents and iwi very se­ri­ously, but with ve­hi­cles com­ing and go­ing, and num­bers lower dur­ing the day, it is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to man­age,’’ King said.

‘‘Clos­ing the site en­tirely is not seen as a vi­able op­tion, as the re­al­ity is that those campers will go else­where and cre­ate dif­fer­ent is­sues.’’

The vast ma­jor­ity of campers used fa­cil­i­ties such as toi­lets and rub­bish bins if they were pro­vided, he said.

‘‘A small per­cent­age tend to bug­ger it up for ev­ery­one else.’’

King said some coun­cils, in­clud­ing Nel­son and Buller, had tighter by­laws govern­ing free­dom camp­ing. Tas­man Dis­trict was the least re­stric­tive in the top of the south.

How­ever, he sus­pected that the Re­spon­si­ble Camp­ing Strat­egy could lead to a re­view of the by­law and a sub­se­quent tight­en­ing of reg­u­la­tions.

‘‘Just say­ing where you can’t go doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily stop peo­ple go­ing there,’’ King said. It was dif­fi­cult to po­lice the is­sue in a dis­trict cov­er­ing al­most 10,000 square kilo­me­tres.

En­force­ment of­fi­cers have been pa­trolling camp­ing sites daily since early De­cem­ber, and have is­sued 36 in­fringe­ment no­tices in Golden Bay, most at Waitapu Bridge.

In ad­di­tion, camp­ing web­sites Cam­perMate and Rankers have been asked to ad­vise of the over­loaded sites in Golden Bay and that they may be closed to late ar­rivals.

New signs show­ing when the site is closed to ad­di­tional ve­hi­cles and re­in­forc­ing ‘‘no park­ing ar­eas’’ would be erected, King said.

‘‘There are lim­i­ta­tions on what we can do, both legally and fi­nan­cially.

‘‘Although we want to pro­tect the rights of our ratepay­ers, we are re­quired to give rea­son­able sup­port to tourists and other vis­i­tors to the dis­trict and to al­low them to free­dom camp.’’

‘‘We take the con­cerns from the res­i­dents and iwi very se­ri­ously, but . . . clos­ing the site en­tirely is not seen as a vi­able op­tion.’’

Tim King,

Tas­man Dis­trict mayor

PHO­TOS: RON ECK­MAN

The num­ber of peo­ple and ve­hi­cles packed into the Waitapu Bridge free­dom camp­ing site in Golden Bay is not ap­pro­pri­ate, says Tas­man Dis­trict mayor Tim King. The crowd­ing has raised con­cerns about pol­lu­tion and po­ten­tial health risks, but a sur­vey of the site has given it a clean bill of health.

An ex­tra toi­let is to be in­stalled at the Waitapu Bridge site, which a coun­cil en­vi­ron­men­tal health of­fi­cer says ‘‘may pre­vent peo­ple toi­let­ing un­der the bridge dur­ing the night’’.

Campers cook­ing on open fires and not us­ing the toi­lets are among the prob­lems noted at the site.

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