Mainfreight founder Bruce Plested battling Waiheke Island marina development

Plans to develop Waiheke Island’s first marina are opposed by Māori as well as Richlister Bruce Plested, chairman and founder of Mainfreight with a $6.8b market capitalisation.

“It’s a disgrace, a kind of madness, quite extreme. It’s grotesque if you see what they’re trying to do,” Plested said of Tony Mair’s 186-berth marina proposal for Putiki Bay, Kennedy Point.

Ngāti Pāoa iwi members have also been camping at the site where Mair’s business began development in early March. Those iwi members are also vowing to stop the scheme, citing the kaupapa of the moana.

Plested said he had given opponents SKP [previously called Save Kennedy Point] around $40,000 to pay for legal fees.

“I just give SKP money so it’s more of an even fight. We did a concert which raised about $40,000 for lawyers and I gave them an amount of money very similar to that three to six months ago.

He has a home on Waiheke and said the marina was not in the locals’ interests.

Mair said he had grown up at Stanley Point in the 1950s, had developed around 18 marinas here and overseas and is vowing to carry on. He recalls how he and friends would swing off ropes onto the cliffs beneath what is now the Devon Park apartment tower at Stanley Point to dig large metal object out of the banks.

“We’d find a soft spot and dig eight to 10ft in and find these cannonballs” recalls the engineer, now in his mid-70s. Two sizes of cannonballs emerged, he says, possibly fired around the 1840s to 1860s when boats discharged their arsenal once they sailed into what were peaceful harbours.

From his Auburn St offices at Takapuna, he spreads his hands wide to illustrate the size of what he discovered.

Mair is the youngest of three. Brothers David and Kerry are also involved in the boating and marine sectors.

The Mairs enjoyed sailing and fishing. Tony recalls “what we used to call the gut boat”, filled with rubbish from boats, discharging near the Rangitoto Island lighthouse.

Mair did an engineering degree in Auckland in the early 1970s, then worked for the once-great Wilkins & Davies. He was sent to the Bluff Aluminium Smelter and Manapouri underground power projects, helped drive a 500m channel through a Samoan coral reef, and helped build 48 bridges in Fiji. He was also involved in maritime projects in Singapore, Malaysia and Borneo followed.

His career has seen him develop or be closely involved with 18 marinas including Opua in the Bay of Islands, Ōrākei, Whangamata, Bayswater, Whangaparaoa’s Gulf Harbour, Bucklands Beach, Westharbour, Pine Harbour, Tutukaka, Whitianga, Wellington’s Mana Marina, Shute Harbour in the Whitsundays, Townsville and Able Point in Australia, Fiji’s Musket Cove, in Canada’s Songees and Santosa Island and in Singapore’s Sentosa.

He has also personally funded marinas at Tutukaka, Opua and Ōrākei.

“My involvement in these marina projects resulted in the sale of over 6000 marina berths.”

In 1979, he was asked to build a new marina at Westharbour [now called Hobsonville Marina].

The project was sold by South British Insurance to Wilkins & Davies. “That was the start of the marina division where we got up to 60 staff eventually.”

After the 1987 sharemarket crash and the firm’s end, Mair founded a construction company and built the wharf in the Chatham Islands and got the contract to repair thousands of metres of wharves in Auckland and Onehunga including at the naval base.

He is most proud of his professional qualifications.

“I don’t look at myself as a developer. I’m a life member of IPENZ [the Institute of Professional Engineers],” he says, referring to the old name of the now-rebranded professional body Engineering New Zealand.

For six years, he has fought to build an Auckland marina adjacent to SeaLink’s vehicle ferry terminal and breakwater on Waiheke Island.

On March 9, Kennedy Point Boatharbour began construction on-site of the island’s first marina: a 186-berth project with 71 private car parks for berth holders, a new wharf, a central-spine walkway, cafe, offices, toilets, laundry and showers and stand-up paddleboard storage.

The marina will be open to the public during daylight hours, with access available to the main marina pier and café.

The project is downsized from the original plans. “We changed from a u-shape to a central pine walkway 3.3m wide by 150m long.”

Daughter Sarah Mair is marketing and sales manager and Tony Mair says more than 1000 people are on the company’s database, updated about the project’s progress. Of initial expressions of interest in berths, 68 per cent have indicated that they are Waiheke ratepayers, Mair says.

Of the 186 berths, 150 are pre-sold, deposits taken of around 20 per cent with balances due as the project reaches hallmark stages. All berths beside the wharf, closest to the land, are pre-sold. Some small berths in the centre and other longer berths further out into the bay are unsold. The cheapest berths went for $180,000.

Berths are 10m, 12m, 14m and 16m: “When I started, the average berth length at Westharbour around 1980 was 9m but now the average is 18m.”

People expect more, boats got bigger. Mair estimates a quarter of berths are for sailboats, the rest for motorboats.

Putiki Bay at Kennedy Point is, he says, ideal because it’s deep compared to other nearby bays, “2.5m to 5.5m”, the seafloor slopes naturally meaning there’ll be no dredging.

“There’ll be no dredging or reclamation and no interference with the tidal zone.”

The site faces the prevailing south-westerly and berths are designed so boat sterns point into that wind, giving the least resistance or the lowest wind load.

Working with Forest and Bird on a predator control programme, with Ngāti Pāoa Iwi Trust Board and others in the community are aspects he takes pride in.

But David Baigent of marina opponents SKP Inc describes the project as “an offensive, elitist edifice”.

SKP has challenged the marina in the Environment Court, High Court, Court of Appeal and is now headed to the Supreme Court.

In 2016, Auckland Council granted consent but SKP appealed that to the Environment Court but was refused and the consent was upheld. So SKP went to the High Court asking for permission for a rehearing in the Environment Court on the basis of having new evidence. The High Court said no.

So it went to the Court of Appeal which also said no.

Now, SKP is going to the Supreme Court to get the High Court ruling overturned and allow it to go back to the Environment Court.

Baigent said late last year that the organisation hoped for a result by around April and he indicated SKP was well-resourced to carry out the half-decade stoush.

“We are funding this by donors coming up to us and putting serious financial skin in the game.”

What sort of money? “Five-figure sums,” Baigent said last year.

Kitt Littlejohn, barrister for the marina business, says construction began in March because a valid resource consent existed.

Mair is using Swedish technology from a floating marine business in Gothenburg. Local firm Heron Construction has the manufacturing rights for that system here and Mair has been to Sweden to meet the firm’s chiefs.

On March 9, Heron Construction Co sent in the 180-tonne barge Calliope, a 50m x 20m structure topped by a 150ft beam crane, able to lift the heavy gear into place at Kennedy Point. That barge was tagged by protesters ‘we don’t want u!!’

Mair said another drilling rig would arrive shortly. That will be a jack-up barge with a drilling rig, able to work on the 26 reinforced concrete piles for the new wharf.

The road to the marina will be widened, improved in a strip around 200m long. Marina services will run in hollow shafts within the new pontoons, bringing power, fresh water and fibre for communications and security cameras to each berth.

Boats will discharge into facilities at the bay end of the marina. That will then be pumped into 110,000-litre tanks under the about-to-be-built wharf for treatment “and then taken away”, Mair says.

“At the moment, you only need to go 200m off from Oneroa and discharge.” Facilities for the wider boating community was, he said, a big plus on Waiheke.

“Completion of the whole project will be at the end of next year,” Mair said.

In the meantime, opponent SKP hopes to go to court this month.

“It’s disappointing because it’s my last one,” Mair says of the Waiheke project. Despite the protests, his view is the score is now 18 down, one to go.

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