A swimming area in the new Wairaka Centennial Park is being criticised by public as an unsafe facility for public use.
The new facility took just short of a year to develop and cost about $870,000 to develop.
It features a zero-depth water play area, tidal pool and a swimming, diving and jumping area and is already proving to be a popular spot, since it opened in early December.
Mawera Karetai, who uses the park frequently says the tidal pool area is unsuitable for swimming nearly every time she visits.
“The area is an uncontrollable, unpredictable space that goes from a nice place to swim to a heaving cesspool of despair with every tide change.
“Debris is an obvious problem, but I am also concerned with the scum that builds up in the area and the likelihood it contains effluent and other run-off that goes into the river. We also have a problem with e.Coli in the river where it flows freely.”
She says the tidal pool area is a disappointing part, of an otherwise fantastic park.
“The rest of the park is awesome - it is fun, well planned and well-constructed. Kids have always been able to swim further down, where the straight is and they should be able to continue swimming there. My kids won’t be swimming in the cesspool.
“We have an 8- year old. Even our older kids 15 and 13 enjoy it. There have always been lots of families using that place. It is nice to sit among the trees, watching the children play and swim.
“It’s disappointing that Council staff are not listening, or rather are making excuses. Councillor Andrew Iles has been awesome though.”
Whakatane District Council public affairs manager Ross Boreham says the park is thoroughly maintained.
“The current situation is outside of the normal conditions we would expect during the summer season.
“We are seeing large volumes of driftwood being carried down the river system and then being deposited largely on the eastern side of the river due to the large swells, king tides and westerly wind pattern which has prevailed in recent weeks.
“We normally remove up to a truckload of debris from the boat ramp area, which is adjacent to Wairaka Centennial Park, each day when conditions result in driftwood being washed up on the riverbank.
“In the last three days, our contractor has removed 14 truckloads of debris from that area. All of the debris which had accumulated in the tidal pool has now been removed.”
He says it’s up to parents to determine whether the condition of the river is suitable for their children to use.
“If it is discoloured by flood water and carrying a significant amount of debris, it’s probably sensible to avoid using it for swimming or paddling and most caregivers would reach that conclusion for themselves.
“As the conditions in the tidal pool will be identical to the river, the same need for parental/caregiver judgement applies.
Capital Projects Manager Jim Finlay says the Wairaka Centennial Park tidal pool concept was developed following initial consultation with the local and boating communities.
“At that time, the boat ramps at the Heads were being used by some parents and caregivers as paddling pools for toddlers - that is, bathers who were too young to be using the open river or formed swimming area.
“The ramps were considered ideal for young bathers due to the shallow water and convenient seating on the edges of the ramps.
“However, that use conflicted with the intended function of the ramps, which of course is to enable vehicles and vessels to carry out launching and landing manoeuvres.
“Many people expressed a desire for children to be able to bathe in the natural river environment and for that to occur safely, an alternative, nearby facility had to be provided.
“The existing form of the bleachers used upriver at the town rowing club was considered ideal edging for a tidal pool and in consultation with iwi, who hold special rights of guardianship over the river, the tidal pool site was chosen.
“The pool is a run-of-the-river facility, which provides the same mixture of conditions experienced in the open channel and river edges. This includes the arrival of any debris that may float up or down the estuary.
“The recent weather and king tides, which have followed some considerable flood events, have brought huge amounts of wooden flotsam down rivers in the region and the volumes have far exceeded normal expectations.
“Regular swimmers and surfers at the Heads area and Ōhope Beach have expressed frustration at these conditions, as they have been ongoing now for some weeks. The tidal pool has been similarly suffered.
“When practical and possible, debris is regularly removed from Council facilities and recently this has included the tidal pool, the district’s boat ramps, the Whakatāne and Thornton wharves, the Heads beach areas and West End carpark.
In addition consultant advice was provided for amended steps providing access to the tidal pool
“There are no clear compliance requirements for this application,” says Jim
“When the handrails are fitted, these will be to a condition suitable for the purpose of the pool. It was never intended to be accessed by people who would require accessibility steps used for buildings.
“The revised steps requested by some users are designed to practical dimensions and are formed with a slope which is acceptable for normal domestic use.
“Council provides a municipal swimming pool for users who desire filtered and disinfected water.
“The Wairaka Centennial Park development has the clear purpose of providing an opportunity to access a natural and traditional bathing environment, while also accommodating the boating facilities that also occupy the river space.
“If people have any further concerns, these should be logged with our Customer Service department so that they can be efficiently processed and responded to as necessary.”