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America's Cup: New Government sponsored plan could backfire

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz 14 Feb 05:26 PST 14 February 2018
Emirates Team NZ makes the front page of the NZ Herald for its stand over the America's Cup bases © NZ Herald

Following a meeting between the various parties involved in planning for the 36th America's Cup yesterday, the Minister for Economic Development along with his former Parliamentary colleague, now Mayor of Auckland, released a so-called "Hybrid" plan for the location of America's Cup bases.

The release was made without consulting America's Cup Champions Emirates Team New Zealand, who along with the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron have the final call on where the 36th America's Cup will be sailed.

The timing and manner of the release was apparently an attempt to once again marginalise Team New Zealand and undermine the the mana of the America's Cup champion with the New Zealand public.

The "Hybrid" plan has also not yet been placed before the Governing Body of the Auckland Council, who are the landowner through their property development arm, Panuku Developments formerly Developments Auckland Ltd.

The Governing Body decided on December 14, 2017, to back a plan promoted by Mayor Phil Goff, after waterfront lobby groups put the skids under a proposal favoured by Emirates Team New Zealand and Panuku Developments. Team New Zealand seemed prepared to go along with the plan, given that it needed to be fleshed out in a lot of key areas.

That decision and proposal was developed further over the Christmas and New Year break by Panuku Developments and the Resource Consents necessary for the project to be completed by August 2019 were lodged with the Auckland Council on January 15, 2018. The Consent documents were checked by the Council for two weeks and then publicly notified at the end of January.

Panuku Developments had elected to fast-track the proposals by going straight to a Hearing by the Environment Court. Public and other submissions close at the end of February 2018 - now with just two weeks left to run.

It is now quite unclear how the process set in train on December 14, 2017, can proceed given the extensive dossier of documents, plans and reports that were prepared for the original plan approved by the Governing Body of the Auckland Council.

After the Mayor and Minister released the so-called "Hybrid" option today, Emirates Team New Zealand issued a statement which said they "have been working through a variety of base options with both Government and Council but have not yet concluded discussions that meet all parties objectives."

"Today’s release of the alternate plan by Government and its support from Council was a surprise to Emirates Team New Zealand said, CEO Grant Dalton."

“We are surprised with the release of the Government plan at this point as from our perspective we are still working together towards a final agreement.”

The America's Cup champions continued saying they had presented a revised plan that focussed all bases on Halsey Street Wharf and avoided any bases on Wynyard Point, claiming their plan reduced project costs by "tens of millions of dollars."

The re-jigged plan used the 75-metre extension approved by the Auckland Council and promoted by Mayor Phil Goff back in December 14, 2017 and incorporated in the filed planning documents.

Emirates Team New Zealand reduced their requirement for bases from eight to seven - all located on Halsey Street and adjoining Hobson Wharf.

“While we are 100% behind the removal of the tanks, timeframe is a hugely significant consideration in the planning for this America’s Cup. And we feel our option presented to Government and Council yesterday eliminates the potential for unforeseen blowouts in both time and money when dealing with contaminated land which are factors none of the interested parties can afford in delivering the event on time and to budget.”

The plan presented by Emirates Team New Zealand includes the 75 metre Halsey extension, which is already in the process for Resource Consent with a reconfiguration of bases and the ability to house up to 7 teams on the Halsey and Hobson Wharfs all well within the confines of the existing neighbouring wharfs.

The Hybrid Plan promoted by the Coalition Government and Mayor shifts bases off the Halsey Street location - leaving just three on a reduced footprint, and instead has five bases on the Wynyard Point area.

There are three key issues with the location of bases on Wynyard Point.

Firstly Wynyard Point is and continues to be during the America's Cup and build up an operational fuel and hazardous substances storage facility.

A report from international fuel and hazardous substances consultancy Sherpa Consulting, produced after the December 14 Governing Body meeting revealed that the Northern half of Wynyard Point is very restricted as to use and population because of the hazards from fuel and substance spillage and exposure, along with hydrocarbon fire and ammonia gas leakage.

The Auckland Council Governing Body approved plan had just three bases on Wynyard Wharf the edge of the dangerous substances zone. The Hybrid Plan now has five bases in the hazardous substances zone and has pushed back into the zone by using a temporary carpark area. Another report on Wynyard Point bases noted that: "Whilst the major risk is fire, Bases 6, 7 & 8 [when there were only three bases on Wynyard Point] may also be affected by toxic releases from nearby hazardous facilities..."

Secondly, a Supreme Court ruling in 2016 determined that Development Auckland, now Panuku Developments were responsible for the rectification of all ground contamination. This entailed digging out the contaminated ground to a depth of 3.5 metres removing the contaminated soils and replacing with clean fill. Emirates Team New Zealand are concerned that this will bring further delay to a project which is already on tight timeframes. The cost of the decontamination rectification was put at $50million in the 2016 Supreme Court Decision. Earlier the Minister David Parker correctly claimed that the cost situation to the Auckland Council had changed - but omitted to say that the expenditure had effectively been bought forward by the premature tank removal and soil rectification. The Auckland Cuncil is also up for $260million of cost related to the APEC Conference being hosted in Auckland later in 2021.

The third issue is the extensive use of Wynyard Wharf, built in 1920 and now well past its designed end date. As well as being in poor condition, Wynyard Wharf carries a number of old used and disused fuel pipes which the Sherpa Consulting Report says could be broken and leak during construction or after team bases are constructed on top of the pipes.

The Hybrid Plan is hinged on the early departure of one of the companies leasing a storage tank site and removal of their tanks and plant. Although no detail is provided, the plan shows a buffer zone on the southern side of the three-team bases - between the bases and multiple storage tanks. On the northern side, a new street is proposed along with a bund which will border the three double sized team bases.

Because they were first to enter, at seven seconds past midnight on January 1, 2018, New York Yacht Club is expected to claim the third base in the Halsey Street/Hobson Wharf area, along with Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa.

That means that all other teams will only have the choice of bases on the Wynyard Point location. It is not clear what restrictions will be placed on those bases because of the hazardous substances risks. But under the current Council plan to mitigate hazard risk and reduce fatality levels, teams on the Wynyard Point were restricted to 100 people per team, no public functions, no public access, and no function spaces.

In the media statement that accompanied the Hybrid Plan announcement, the focus was very much on the restoration of sightlines and with no mention of team safety issues.

Emirates Team New Zealand is understood to be relaxed about its own base location which the Council/Coalition Government claim is worth $30million. There appears to have been little input from the Challengers who seem to be more focused on biding their time until the AC75 Class rule is published at the end of March 2018. And then using the remaining three months until entries close at the end of June 2018 to evaluate the viability of a Challenge.

The decision that will have to be taken by Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and Emirates Team New Zealand will be as to whether they have any confidence that the Bases project can be delivered by August 2019.

That deadline date is also notable for its absence in the media release from the Mayor or Coalition Government.

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