Wellington Scoop

The runway extension, petrol tankers, and Evans Bay’s unique marine life

by Jim Mikoz
Plans to extend the runway at the northern end of Wellington Airport involve a tunnel under the extension – with consequences that the City Council and the Regional Council have not yet taken into account. It’s against the law for fuel tankers to travel through tunnels, and there’s already a tunnel at the southern end of the runway.

If the tunnel is built, the planners must be intending to run dry the fuel stations in Miramar. And as prop planes are supplied by tanker from the oil installation at Seaview, they must also be intending to phase out these planes and only allow jet planes in and out of the airport.

If they insist on extending the runway north, they will also be ignoring years of scientific research done by Victoria University, which has proved that Evans Bay is major spawning area for many marine species. The runway should be extended south, because (except for spawning red gurnard) Evans Bay is many times more valuable for marine life than Lyall Bay will ever be.

A lack of marine knowledge is once again on display. Evans Bay is unique, as it traps the warmer spring and summer waters driven across the harbour by the prevailing north westerly into the bay. These warmer waters trigger spawning, and large fish in spawning condition have been caught not only by the university in their trawl samples but also by recreational fishers (up to a thousand of them have been counted using Miramar Wharf in one day.)

Recreational fishers have caught large spawning fish in Evans Bay including blue cod, tarakihi, red gurnard, warehou, spotty sharks, snapper and almost every species of flatfish. One of the reasons I took on the job of being secretary of the Wellington Surfcasting and Angling Club was to see if I could stop the university trawling into Evans Bay and lifting their net full of 7 to 11 kg snapper and other large fish in front of those fishing off the wharf. After three years of asking, while on the Ministry of Fisheries Fishing Liaison Committee, I obtained a copy of their permit which proved they did not have a legal right to trawl in Wellington Harbour and the practice was stopped.

Evans Bay has a hidden unique secret. It has a number of submarine freshwater springs, and the fresh water from these springs can be seen rising in the bay after the Hutt River has been in flood due to the artesian water pressure building up. This is the time when large mackerel, anchovy and pilchard schools arrive to eat the mysid shrimps forced out of the springs, which still remain as a specie to be scientifically identified. The bait schools are followed by dolphins and orcas that can be seen travelling down the eastern side of Evans Bay, bringing these schools together for food. The adult orcas then hunt the stingrays that thrive in these waters, eating the many shell fish feeding on the algae as a result of the rising fresh water.

But hang on. If fuel tankers cannot travel through tunnels and the airport does not want to be limited to jets and Miramar motorists still want to fill up at their petrol station, there will have to be a road around the end the runway just as there is today. This road is defined as State highway one until it reaches the airport. What sort of a road is a state highway? Well it will be at least four lanes wide with pedestrian access on both sides and a median strip in the middle. At a guess that’s another 300 metres added to the runway extension; a quick calculation shows that the reclamation has now been extended to half way down Burnham Wharf. That will make tankers tying up in a strong north-westerly an interesting sight to see as they could end up hard against the reclamation. An even scarier sight will be as your plane comes into land, rocking and rolling in a strong southerly, and you see a large fuel tanker just out of your window. At night they get lit up like a Christmas tree so that will be an even greater buzz as you come in on the late night Aussie plane.

We have in the planning stages a runway extension with a cost of one million dollars a metre – much more if there’s a road around the new runway. And based on their misunderstanding of the marine environment, scientists will be seeking resource consents to fill in undersea freshwater springs, just as they have done elsewhere in Wellington Harbour. We are up against people who have their blinkers on. The runway extension to the north would have been canned long ago if recreational fishers – who have fished Evans Bay for over fifty years – had been consulted.

Jim Mikoz is president of the Wellington Recreational Marine Fishers Association.


  1. JC, 6. August 2013, 13:18

    An interesting piece, but I get the impression that the writer has, in some parts, ventured outside his area of expertise (and made invalid assumptions) in a valiant attempt to pour scorn on the expansion plans. I agree that its always important to consider the negative consequences on the environment that may arise from any development, but we must also remember that they can’t be viewed in isolation. To say that the airport are “ignoring” the university’s research may be an overstatement – all factors will, in the resource consent process, need to be taken into account and an appropriate value attributed to them. Also, who’s to say that an exemption couldn’t be granted for the tunnel issue?

    This is definitely going to be an interesting case which is likely to go down to the wire. It really is a shame that a southward expansion isn’t as economically feasible as it seems to be the preferable option in a number of other categories.

  2. Hel, 6. August 2013, 20:23

    I thought the point of going through the resource consent process was so that a full range of issues could be considered. Here is an idea: why don’t we let the process proceed, rather than try to litigate through these type of articles.

  3. Mike, 7. August 2013, 20:01

    Road tunnels can be constructed to allow passage by petrol tankers, eg SH1 Victoria Park tunnel in Auckland (see http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10762996), so that is not an insuperable problem.

  4. andy foster, 7. August 2013, 20:34

    Hi Jim – I am advised by a combination of WCC and NZTA officers that each case is individually assessed. A key issue would be the availability of an alternative route. If such route is not available, a tunnel can be designed to accept dangerous goods e.g the Victoria Park Tunnel in Auckland which is 600-700m in length has been designed with a “deluge system” which allows for dangerous goods. On the other hand the new Memorial Park tunnel will not permit dangerous goods similar to the Mt Vic and Terrace Tunnels because there are alternative routes.

    In the case of a new Cobham Drive Bridge/Tunnel (a tunnel currently is defined as a structure > 120m in length) there would be no practical alternative route and it would therefore be required to be designed to accept dangerous goods routing.

    I hope that addresses the concern at least in respect of hazardous goods being transported.

    Kind regards

    Cr Andy Foster
    Transport Leader
    Wellington City Council

  5. Stan Andis, 8. August 2013, 20:14

    Dear Councillor Foster,
    It is interesting that you have commented on this subject. But where is your comment on the Barrier system at the Airport?
    You will be aware that councillors voted to spend $1million toward a Resource Consent application for the runway extension. There was no public consultation. There was no provision for this expenditure in the Draft Annual Plan. There was no provision for this in the Long Term Plan. When Councillors voted to donate this amount of money to WIAL, they did not comply with the Community Engagement Policy. Future financial commitments by WCC toward the proposed runway extension will be observed with great interest.

  6. Mareta@Strathmore, 9. August 2013, 12:33

    I wondered the same Stan. Councillor Foster lives over in the west, in Karori, and famously wasted money re-litigating the argument for or against the indoor sports centre, and along with the mayor, has been part of the dithering over the flyover. As you so rightly state, the $1million committed to the investigation of lengthening the runway was never budgeted for, just another ‘pet project’ that these councillors like to spring on ratepayers. Notice he says nothing about Stewart Duff Drive. Or the proposed bus lanes that are going to wreck havoc through the eastern and southern suburbs after the elections. The man plays the ratepayers as fools. If this was back in Samoa, we’d teach him a lesson.

  7. Driver, 9. August 2013, 22:06

    What if a dangerous goods truck caught fire inside the tunnel and it was blowing a strong southerly? There is no fire station in Miramar..

  8. JC, 10. August 2013, 7:32

    Haha Driver I can’t tell if you’re kidding or not. There is a fire station thirty seconds from there.

  9. Nora, 10. August 2013, 11:46

    Yes JC but will the Fire Station in Troy St, Kilbirnie, just off Cobham Drive, have to be moved – it will probably be under the Runway extension…….Rongotai Terrace and other streets were casualties when the airport was extended with the loss of hundreds of homes.

    Let us not forget how close the Indoor Sports Centre will be to all this construction/destruction and how many more millions of ratepayers’ money is going to be spent on “investigation.” I understand in September 2009 the WCC assessed the implications of sea level rise on the Kilbirnie Town Centre, plus in 2008 the Ministry of Environment investigated coastal hazards and climate change. Not to mention various reports from NIWA on tsunamis.

  10. Phil C, 14. August 2013, 20:45

    God, another unholy planning mess. Move the damn airport to Paraparaumu.

    I always wondered why Evans Bay had such cracking fishing. Shame it’s going to be stuffed up.

  11. Matthew Johns, 15. August 2013, 16:01

    Thanks for that Jim.
    I’m not sure if you have looked over the history but if you did you would have seen that Evans Bay as it is today was in no small part created by the airport development.
    Having read your commentary I think we should all thank our lucky stars that humanity managed to survive the ecological calamity which must have been caused by the last (and far more significant) runway extension in that direction!
    Relax – with the fishing quota soon to be screwed back to zero you will soon have nothing to worry about – hell, you might even be looking for cheap, convenient flights to get you and your well used rod somewhere you can keep what you catch.