Used condoms, human faeces, old mattresses and empty bottles left on the edge of Lake Rotomā are ruining the area, locals say.
But there is confusion among authorities about how to tackle the problem.
Natasha Priestley has lived at Lake Rotomā for 17 years and says vandalism by “youths in four-wheel-drives” has been an ongoing issue for “a couple of years now.”
“It’s becoming a real nightmare,” the mother of two said.
“They’re drinking and driving up and down the lake edge and there’s no police, no monitoring.
“They have party, after party, after party. They drive along the lakebed into the water, through nesting sites. They do doughnuts and just hoon around.”
Priestley said she had found used condoms, women’s sanitary pads and old clothes along the beach.
“There’s a mattress there right now. My kids are constantly pulling bottles out of the lake.”
Priestley said she wanted the lake to be kept beautiful for her children and their future children to enjoy.
Local farmer Paul Meredith’s land backs on to Lake Rotomā by Manawahe Bay and he said the beaches had been “damaged” by visitors.
“They’re using it like a racetrack. I can hear them from [my place].”
Meredith said families with young children often camped on his farm and had access to the lake through a gate.
“They’ve been intimidated and abused by these people,” Meredith said.
“They’re cutting down trees to light big bonfires and chucking petrol on it. They don’t care we’re in a fire ban right now.”
Meredith said he often found rubbish, dog and human faeces on the beach. When Meredith confronted those he thought were responsible, he found them rude and arrogant.
“Seventy per cent of the ones I’ve had to deal with have been heavily intoxicated.”
Meredith said there had also been an incident where a farm gate was rammed and vehicles drove on to the property, injuring and shooting stock.
He said he had spoken to one group “from all over New Zealand”.
“They’re not even locals.
“This small group of idiots are going to end up closing down that part of the beach to locals and it’s going to be ruined for everyone else.”
Meredith said he and his neighbours had approached authorities about the problem.
“But the bureaucratic wheels turn very slowly and no one wants to own it.
“I just hope it doesn’t take someone getting killed or a major fire to make things happen.”
One Lake Rotomā resident and former Bay of Plenty Regional Council worker, who asked not to be named, said all the parties responsible for the lake needed to meet.
“They need to agree to prosecute,” he said.
“[Wardens] used to have authority to issue notices but that changed 10 years ago. Now there are no consequences [for bad behaviour.]”
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Te Arawa Lakes Trust environmental manager Nicki Douglas said issues were raised with the trust before Christmas and the way the lake was being treated was disappointing.
She said four-wheel-drive activities had damaged the lakebed, and large amounts of rubbish were being left.
“We are genuinely upset that our lakes and the surrounding environment is being disrespected in this way by a small group of people and we fully support the concerns of the local community and associated stakeholders,” she said.
“None of us will stand for the desecration of our waterways and lakebeds in this way.”
Douglas said the trust was liaising with landowners, hapū, the community board and Department of Conservation to put solutions in place.
“Te Arawa Lakes Trust staff will be present at Lake Rotomā over this long weekend to remind people that they are not able to drive into the lake or over the lakebed to access the adjoining DoC managed area or the paper road.
“We are hoping this will prevent this behaviour in the immediate future until we have a long term plan.
“We would like to send a clear message to those who have been using and disrespecting our lakes in this way – don’t. We are all working really hard to restore our lakes and surrounding environments and you have a role to play in this as well.”
Rotorua Lakes Council district development deputy chief executive Jean-Paul Gaston said there had been an increase in complaints from Lake Rotomā residents.
“We understand that due to the lake levels being significantly lower this year, more people have been accessing the area around Lake Rotomā.”
Gaston said the challenge in responding was these issues were managed by a number of authorities including the council, Department of Conservation, Bay of Plenty Regional Council, Fire and Emergency New Zealand and the Police, as well as private landowners.
“Resolution of the reported issues requires a collaborative approach by the organisations that each have the individual authority to respond.”
Gaston said the council was in the process of negotiating with the groups involved.
Toi Moana Bay of Plenty Regional Council compliance manager Stephen Mellor said the regional council received one complaint from Lake Rotomā in the past two years.
“In this case, our compliance team reviewed the complaint and forwarded it on to DoC for actioning as they have remit over the areas the customer expressed concern about.”
Mellor said driving vehicles around the lake was allowed provided drivers had relevant licences and weren’t breaking any road rules or safety signage established by DoC.
Mellor said it was up to DoC and police to manage this.
DoC operations manager for Rotorua Zane Jensen said “a number of complaints” had been received.
“However, it is a complex situation which involves multiple landowners.”
Jensen said DoC would be taking action to obstruct vehicle access to the lake edge.
“In the longer term we will be working with other agencies, iwi, hāpū and whānau, and the Lake Rotomā community to develop enduring solutions.”
A New Zealand Police spokeswoman said police were not currently aware of incidents of this nature around Lake Rotomā.
Inappropriate behaviour can be reported to Te Arawa Lakes Trust at [email protected]
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