All going well, Phill Joostens could be guiding fare-paying guests on rafts down the Mataura River before Christmas.
Resource consent for commercial rafting trips down the Mataura River, spanning three sections of the river from Otamita Rd or Monaghan Rd (Croydon) to Wyndham has been granted by the Gore District Council.
The Southland District Council has yet to grant consent for the three trips in its area comprising the trip from Nokomai to Cattle Flat, from Mataura to Wyndham, which is also partly in the Gore district, and the one on the Oreti River.
Mr Joostens said while he did not have a starting date he was hopeful it would be before the end of the year.
“I’d be rapt if this year I could get some weekend trips going,” he said.
“Things could possibly fall into place pretty quick.”
Mr Joostens had changed his plans for the trip from Nokomai to Cattle Flat.
“I said I would mostly operate out of fishing season but through the summer if I did want to do some trips [the river flow] would be above 30 cumecs [cubic metres per second].
“That is above when your average fisherman is going to be down the river fishing.”
Southland Fish and Game was happy with the change because “basically fishermen are not going to be there”.
“It’s not ideal for me but I just want to get on with it.”
While he was pleased to have one resource consent approved, there was still a lot of work to be done.
“I think I’ll be really relieved when I get the first rafts going down the river.”
One of the things he had to do was prepare a safe operational plan for Maritime New Zealand.
Southland Fish and Game manager Zane Moss said the change to Mr Joostens’ proposed rafting trip was a good compromise.
“He’ll only be using the upper river through the fishing season when the river is above normal or too discoloured for fishing, so he won’t be disturbing the existing angling opportunities on that stretch of the river,” Mr Moss said.
Former Otago Fish and Game council member Dave Witherow, of Balfour, said anglers were upset by the decision to allow a rafting business on the river.
“This is the most disastrous proposal for the Mataura River since there was a suggestion of a hydroelectric scheme at Cattle Flat about 35 years ago,” Mr Witherow said.
“This is really, really toxic.”
Anglers felt “betrayed” by Southland Fish and Game, which despite feedback had supported the resource consent.
“We had hoped the interests of anglers would be protected by the statutory body set up to look after the interests of anglers, which is Fish and Game.”
Mr Witherow was part of a group which was intending to lodge a judicial review not only of Fish and Game but also the Southland District Council’s decision not to publicly notify Mr Joostens’ proposal.
Southland District Council resource management team leader Marcus Roy said the council was considering the resource consent application but had decided not to notify the application.
“[Mr Joostens] has made a number of amendments to his application to manage the impact his rafting activity will have,” Mr Roy said.