Sail­ing or sink­ing?

Whanganui Chronicle - - Front Page - Zaryd Wil­son zaryd.wil­son@whanganuichron­i­cle.co.nz

Plans to run an in­ter-is­land ferry from the Whanganui River mouth are press­ing ahead, the Chron­i­cle has been told, de­spite no pub­lic state­ment this year from the com­pany be­hind the pro­posal.

Mid­west Fer­ries signed a me­moran­dum of un­der­stand­ing with the Whanganui District Coun­cil in May af­ter the coun­cil spent $10,000 on a re­port look­ing at the abil­ity of a ship to turn around in the Whanganui har­bour.

The man be­hind the pro­posal, Mid­west Fer­ries di­rec­tor Neville John­son, would not an­swer ques­tions the Chron­i­cle had about the pro­posal.

But Nik Zan­gouropou­los, a con­sul­tant hired by Mid­west who later be­came project di­rec­tor, said the fo­cus this year had been on get­ting the MoU and with that done the fo­cus now shifted to writ­ing a pro­posal to take to cen­tral gov­ern­ment.

Zan­gouropou­los said the project still needed de­tailed de­sign, en­gi­neer­ing and en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment.

“That will re­quire a fair amount of money.”

He said that would likely need to come from lo­cal or cen­tral gov­ern­ment be­cause it was “too un­cer­tain” for pri­vate in­vest­ment at this stage.

The back­ground

Mid­west Fer­ries an­nounced plans for an in­ter-is­land ser­vice be­tween Whanganui and Motueka early last year and be­gan court­ing do­na­tions from the pub­lic to fund con­sul­tants as it built a busi­ness case.

In March, 2017 Mid­west an­nounced it aimed to raise $100,000 for a busi­ness pro­posal by May.

Trustee Gra­ham Adams said then that it had al­ready raised $42,000 and by April John­son said $60,000 has been raised in six weeks which he called “stag­ger­ing stuff”.

In May, a fea­si­bil­ity study was pre­sented to Whanganui district coun­cil­lors.

One of its au­thors, con­sul­tant Nik Zan­gouropou­los, said he’d gone from be­ing “a scep­tic to an ad­vo­cate”.

The re­port found a freight-only ser­vice be­tween the two dis­tricts was tech­ni­cally and fi­nan­cially fea­si­ble and worth a de­tailed busi­ness plan based on a 180m ship car­ry­ing up to 70 trucks with one ves­sel sail­ing in each di­rec­tion per day.

Af­ter that, Zan­gouropou­los be­gan work­ing un­der the ti­tle of project di­rec­tor.

Late last year, a Christ­mas pam­phlet was cir­cu­lated by Mid­west Fer­ries up­dat­ing peo­ple on the project and ask­ing for do­na­tions.

“Sea­sons greet­ing and re­mem­ber it’s the sea­son for giv­ing,” it said.

John­son would not an­swer the Chron­i­cle’s ques­tions about how much money was even­tu­ally raised and what it was spent on.

Adams said he still talked to John­son but was not in­volved in fundrais­ing and said his only com­ment would be “that pur­pose has been served”.

Mid­west and the coun­cil

Af­ter Mid­west’s ini­tial fea­si­bil­ity study, a peer re­view com­mis­sioned by the Whanganui District Coun­cil found it con­tained “an unusu­ally large num­ber of ar­eas ‘parked’ for fu­ture study and some crit­i­cal as­sump­tions”.

On the back of that, the coun­cil de­cided not to in­clude the ferry pro­posal in the port re­vi­tal­i­sa­tion busi­ness case it pre­sented to the Gov­ern­ment.

But in May, Mid­west Fer­ries and the coun­cil signed the me­moran­dum of un­der­stand­ing af­ter a meet­ing be­tween the two par­ties.

A copy re­leased to the Chron­i­cle shows the coun­cil sup­ports Mid­west Fer­ries “ad­vanc­ing its busi­ness case” but said the pro­posal needed “fur­ther clar­i­fi­ca­tion or in­ves­ti­ga­tion”.

“For Whanganui District Coun­cil to sup­port Mid­west Fer­ries’ busi­ness plan­ning process, all rep­re­sen­ta­tions must be an ac­cu­rate rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the cir­cum­stances, in­clud­ing fundrais­ing which must be com­pli­ant with rel­e­vant leg­is­la­tion.

It said the MoU was not a com­mit­ment of funds from the coun­cil.

Whanganui Mayor Hamish McDouall said the MoU was a res­o­lu­tion of the coun­cil and de­vel­oped by staff and John­son.

“But I think it’s im­por­tant to sup­port busi­ness as best we can. In prin­ci­pal, there’s al­ways been sup­port from coun­cil for a ferry ser­vice,” he said.

The Marico re­port

Fur­ther to that, the coun­cil also paid $10,000 for a re­port by Marico Ma­rine which asked to re­view Mid­west’s pro­posal to op­er­ate a roll on, roll off (RoRo) ser­vice out of Whanganui.

It con­cluded: “There is lit­tle doubt that a 180m RoRo ferry could op­er­ate out of the Whanganui River mouth, in­clud­ing swing­ing and berthing”.

But “sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ment and data col­lec­tion will need to oc­cur to pre­pare the port fa­cil­i­ties”.

It said the turn­ing cir­cle did seem vi­able, sub­ject to sim­u­la­tion, but not enough was known about the bar and its sta­bil­ity or the en­trance to the river.

“Suc­cess­ful and re­li­able cross­ing of a deep­ened Whanganui en­trance bar at all states of the tide is crit­i­cal to the suc­cess of fu­ture com­mer­cial ship­ping at the port.”

The re­port said “con­sid­er­able” dredg­ing would be re­quired.

“[The] de­vel­op­ment would have lit­tle choice but to con­sider the pres­ence of a dredger that has the ca­pac­ity top rapidly clear the bar . . . af­ter storm events.”

Marico rec­om­mended “the pro­posed ferry de­vel­op­ment pro­ceed over­all by us­ing ad­vanced sim­u­la­tion to de­velop the safe ma­noeu­vring pa­ram­e­ters re­quired for a ves­sel to safely utilise the port”.

“Coun­cil are urged to take the lead in es­tab­lish­ing a wave rider buoy off the en­trance and thus se­cur­ing a most valu­able flow of in­for­ma­tion for this port.”

Mid­west’s Neville John­son de­clined to talk to the Chron­i­cle about the pro­posal’s progress.

It was in Septem­ber 2016 that lo­cal busi­ness­man Neville John­son ap­proached the Chron­i­cle with his bold plan to start up a ferry ser­vice be­tween Whanganui and Motueka.

The Chron splashed the story on page one; Mid­west Fer­ries am­bi­tious idea grabbed plenty of in­ter­est; John­son ap­pre­ci­ated the pub­lic­ity.

There was plenty more ini­tial pub­lic­ity fol­low­ing that first story. But it has been more than a year now since any pub­lic progress re­ports.

In Au­gust 2017, Mid­west Fer­ries an­nounced it would have meet­ings with of­fi­cials from the Min­istry of

Busi­ness, In­no­va­tion and Em­ploy­ment and the Trans­port Min­istry “in the next two to three weeks”.

No word on whether that took place.

At that same time it also promised a joint state­ment with Whanganui District Coun­cil on “work un­der way”. Noth­ing yet.

We are as­sured work is go­ing on be­hind the scenes, but there is no doubt the ferry has some rugged seas to tra­verse if it is to find a berth in re­al­ity.

The next step — de­tailed de­sign, and en­gi­neer­ing and en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ments — will be costly, with project di­rec­tor Nik Zan­gouropou­los sug­gest­ing the money will come from cen­tral or lo­cal gov­ern­ment.

But his ad­mis­sion that the plan is “too un­cer­tain” for pri­vate in­vest­ment may have tax­pay­ers and ratepay­ers won­der­ing why they should take the gam­ble.

Mid­west Fer­ries may have a me­moran­dum of un­der­stand­ing with Whanganui District Coun­cil, but there is no com­mit­ment of coun­cil fund­ing. An MoU is a friend­ship, not a mar­riage.

How­ever, Re­gional Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Shane Jones’ Pro­vin­cial Growth Fund would seem a po­ten­tial tar­get, par­tic­u­larly as part of Mid­west’s sales pitch is the na­tional value of an­other Cook Strait cross­ing.

An­other de­vel­op­ment this year has been a study — at a cost of $10,000 to coun­cil — on the pos­si­ble op­er­a­tion of a roll on, roll off ferry at the Whanganui port.

The fish hook here is that — while fea­si­ble — it would need mas­sive and con­sis­tent dredg­ing of the river.

The Chron­i­cle re­vis­its the ferry plan with a re­port in to­day’s pa­per.

We ap­proached Neville John­son for com­ment. He re­fused to an­swer any of our many ques­tions.

That is some­thing he is per­fectly en­ti­tled to do.

But as he has been given many thou­sands of dol­lars in pub­lic do­na­tions, and at least $10,000 of ratepayer funds, he may feel an obli­ga­tion to give the Whanganui pub­lic an up­date.

Gra­ham Adams, Rod Pearce and Neville John­son posed at the Whanganui har­bour to launch a fundrais­ing drive for the ferry.

An artist’s im­pres­sions of the Mid­west Fer­ries’ con­cept.

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