Kokako Lodge is an 82-bed educational camp located at the foot of Auckland’s largest park.
An Auckland hotel that bills itself as New Zealand’s “best outdoor education institution” has taken city council and health authorities to court in a bid to keep teenagers on track during the upcoming bait drop.
The owners of Kokako Lodge said the move was for the mental health of the rangatahi and was made after attempts to negotiate with Auckland Council failed to resolve the issue.
Late last month Auckland Council ordered the closure of Kokako Lodge in Hunua Ranges Regional Park for regular pest control operations to rid the area of rats and possums that threaten native flora and fauna.
The operation will see toxic 1080 bait, a biodegradable poison called sodium fluoroacetate, dropped by helicopters over the regional park at the base of the 82-bed educational camp.
Lodge today (Tuesday) asked the High Court for an interim order allowing it to remain open throughout the pest control operation.
Attorney Ryan Marsich said the closure order was “unreasonable” because it proposed a safety plan designed to minimise the risk of hotel residents entering the drop zone.
He said vulnerable and disadvantaged youth were booked into events during this period and the closure of hotels would have a significant impact on their mental health.
Many of them are part of a Ministry of Education program called Aim High, which focuses on decile one schools with low attendance.
“These students face significant challenges, especially from the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact,” he said, adding that the cancellation of the long-term event at the hotel would increase their anxiety, stress and tension.
The hotel has come up with a safety plan, activities will be limited during the descent and students will not go beyond hotel boundaries or participate in water sports.
Each group of 10 students will also have two adults — a teacher and a teacher — to ensure compliance, Marsich said.
During a drop earlier in 2015, the hostel was allowed to remain open provided residents remained on the property, but the court heard the students were later found wandering the drop zone.
Attorney Chris Brown, who represents Auckland Regional Public Health Services, said the students were “all over the place, outside of their understood zone”.
Auckland Council’s lawyer Lizzy Wiessing said the hotel was occupying council land under licence, not a lease, which came with land use conditions.
Communication about the bait drop began late last year – around the time those bookings were being accepted – so hotels should expect they need to close by this time, she said.
But the hotel argues that the actual closure notice was issued on August 24, which was “very late” and completely unexpected.
Marsich said the hotel asked the court to issue an interim order allowing it to remain open while the 1080 drop continues to make adjustments.
“This is not an all-or-nothing operation,” he said. “The shed is about 20,000 hectares of operating area, and the cottages are just a fraction of that.”
He said two other camps in the area do not need to close, although one, Hunua Falls Camp, is about 300 meters from the drop zone, similar to Kokako.
Wiessing told Open Justice this was because the two properties were not on park land and were therefore not subject to conditions.
In court, she acknowledged the hotel’s work but argued the public was interested in the park’s health.
40% of business expenses already covered; bait has been purchased and cannot be resold or easily disposed of.
Wiessing said the committee had tried to address the hotel’s concerns and had long discussions, but they couldn’t accept all the security plans.
This year’s closing conditions are less onerous – five days and more – than the four weeks prior to 2018.
The drop – unless stopped – is scheduled for the next available weather window. “[Council is] Watch the weather like a hawk,” Wiesing told the court.
Judge Simon Moore is expected to announce his decision on Wednesday afternoon.