The proposed permanent overnight closure of the Oamaru Breakwater is one step closer.
At a meeting of the Waitaki District Council’s assets committee last Wednesday, its members recommended the full council formally consider the breakwater’s closure at its meeting on September 13.
It is presently closed on a trial basis.
Since September 2016, when the Waitaki District Council agreed to leave gates open to allowing public access to the breakwater permanently, crowds have gathered every evening outside the ticketed Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony to watch blue penguins come ashore.
The number of people gathering to view the birds has increased over the past few months, prompting the council to consider action to ensure the people are safe and the welfare of the penguins is not compromised.
Concerns have also been raised about the amount of noise and flash photography while penguins come ashore.
Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher maintains the closure is not an attempt to restrict free viewing of the penguins coming ashore, as there are other areas around the harbour they can be seen.
He has also rejected suggestions the closure aims to maximise revenue through ticket sales at the colony, pointing to the fact the viewing stands are often full.
Mr Kircher said public safety was paramount, and that the council’s move was necessary.
He said the issue generated robust conversation around the council table.
“There was good discussion had about it. We want to work on the principle of keeping as much public access as possible to the breakwater and beach area.”
He said the only option to keep the beach open but close the breakwater was to fence the latter off, which he felt “would not be appropriate at all”.
“We’ve gone with the decision to close the gate by Portside [restaurant] and try and make it as late as possible before it gets dark.
” It will be opened early in the morning so anyone that wants to go down at dawn .. the expectation is they can do that.”
The hours the gates will be locked and opened have yet to be set.
Mr Kircher said the proposed times to lock the gates, at 5pm from March to October and 7.30pm from November to February, were “too restrictive”.
The opening and closing of the gates would be handled by council contractors.