A three-person hearings committee set up by Waikato Regional Council to consider submissions on proposed changes to the Navigation Safety Bylaw has agreed that the council’s harbourmasters would work with members of the public to carry out safety assessments for swim zones and towing access lanes at Hahei and Whangapoua.
The committee also voted 2-1 against increasing the Whitianga Waterway speed zone from 3 knots to 5 knots.
Waikato Regional Councillors will be asked to vote on a committee recommendation to lobby for legislation which will enable swimming to be banned in the Aratiatia Rapids.
Last Friday (28 August), Taupō District Council, Mercury and the Department of Conservation told the committee that prohibition at the rapids would help to prevent the loss of more lives and should be included in the bylaw.
It followed the death of Rachael de Jong while swimming with friends on Waitangi Day 2017 after the floodgates of the Aratiatia Dam were opened.
During lengthy deliberations the committee agreed with legal advice that the Navigation Safety Bylaw is unable to be used as a mechanism for banning swimming at the rapids.
The committee heard that swimming can be banned where it impedes the safe navigation of vessels, but because boats can’t enter the rapids the bylaw can’t be used. It would also make it impossible for harbourmasters to enforce the rule, the committee agreed.
Instead, the committee will ask regional Councillors later this month to back a recommendation that would see the council join with other agencies to lobby for legislative change to prohibit public swimming in the rapids.
Councillors will also vote on a committee recommendation asking the Department of Conservation to investigate its ability to limit public access via the Conservation Act, and for all concerned parties to consider their liabilities under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
Aratiatia Dam and Aratiatia Rapids are located on the Waikato River, downstream of Lake Taupo, about 16km from Taupo town centre. The dam opens three times a day in winter and four times a day in summer.
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