AN electric wire placed across at blockade on Maraetotara Road at Ohope this week has shocked users but Ngati Awa Farms says it was just there to allow stock to be moved.
Last week a barricade was erected on the road, a popular route with cyclists and walkers, stating it was closed due to Covid-19.
Earlier this week, an electric wire was added to this barricade.
It is understood the barricade is to prevent people from accessing the Ngati Awa Farm, which many tracks cross through, during this lockdown period.
Ngati Awa Group Holdings chief executive Tracey Hook said the group had support from police when placing the signs and that an “unmanageable” amount of people had crossed the farm during lockdown.
However, a doctor, who didn’t want to be named, took down the electric wire on Monday night concerned that if a vulnerable person accidentally touched it, there could be serious consequences.
“Given that it’s an open road and a public road, it is a walk or cycle which would be recommended because of its open situation; not surrounded by trees and bush to be contaminated by any virus as with some of the other bushwalks either from Whakatane or Ohope,” he said.
“Therefore, it should be open and available to the public to continue to be able to exercise without having to go too far from their homes.”
He said a number of people had continued to bypass the cones regardless of the closure and the addition of the electric wire raised serious concerns about safety.
“I should imagine that is not only stupid in the sense that it could injure children, or if someone elderly with a heart condition accidentally touched it there could be a significant issue which would require an ambulance call-out. In addition, surely it is illegal to do something like that,” he said.
The doctor said neighbours had alerted him to the electric wire because they were worried about their children potentially touching it while biking.
Cyclist Lex Williams understood why access to the farm should be stopped during lockdown but was bemused as why public access to a public road should also be stopped.
Mr Williams said he had a five-year-old grandson staying during lockdown and they enjoyed cycling up the gravel road away from traffic on the main thoroughfares.
“I’m a little miffed at being denied access to the public road,” Mr Williams said.
“Why can’t we be allowed up to the intersection where you go left to the farm and right through the bush to the old dump. Block off access there if you’re going to block it off.”
Mr Williams said most walkers and cyclists he had seen were simply ignoring the sign and carrying on through regardless.
“It is nonsense, there is more than enough room on that road so that you don’t come into contact with anyone else.
“We have a legal right to exercise, do they have a legal right to block the road?”
Mr Williams said he would like the council to work something out with Ngati Awa to move the blockade further back to the entrance of their own land.
“I’m going to keep using the road, there is more than enough room to ensure a good social distance and to remain within your own bubble,” he said.
Ms Hook said the road, which only provided access to working farmland, was closed in order to protect the farmworkers from an increased amount of visitors to the area who were using the land and cycle pathways during lockdown.
“A number of the pathways across the farmland are narrow and it is not possible to maintain physical distancing of two metres if passing,” she said.
“Visitors were also using the same gates as those used by our farm workers increasing the possibility of transmission or infection for both parties.”
Ms Hook said their desire to protect farmworkers and members of the public had been supported by police and the Whakatane District Council as everyone needed to take steps to protect themselves and their communities during the lockdown.
She said police and the council – not the farm – had selected the sites of the warning signs and road closure locations.
“Electric fences have been placed beyond the road boundary by not only our farmer but also the neighbouring farmer,” Ms Hook said.
“This is normal farming practice to separate stock (bulls from cows) from neighbouring farms. The electric fence is in place when stock are being moved or grazed and removed at night when stock are moved to fenced paddocks.
“As members of the public should not be accessing the road beyond the road closure then we do not envisage that this is likely to cause problems.”
Council manager transportation Martin Taylor said the road closures were requested by Ngati Awa and supported by police and if people were sticking to lockdown rules there should not be an issue.
“The reality is that if people were really listening to the very strong guidance provided by the Government, the New Zealand Police, Department of Conservation and emergency services, they would be staying much closer to their homes and not venturing out this far beyond their immediate neighbourhood,” he said.
“Yes, these roads are public roads, but Covid-19 restrictions are in place and people should be thinking of the wider welfare of the community and country rather than their own desires to be able to ‘go wherever they want to’ for their recreation.”
Eight Whakatane roads closed
SEVERAL public roads are now closed as traffic volumes and people converging continue to increase.
Police, in partnership with Whakatane District Council and local iwi, have closed the following roads: Maraetotara Road; Burma Road; Harbour Road east of Te Taiawatea Drive;
West End carpark; Bunyan Road east; Carrington Lane; Kohi Point Road, past the last residence; and Muriwai Drive northern carpark, past the last residence.
Senior Sergeant Tristan Murray said the road closures were a direct result of people clearly flouting the rules imposed by the alert level four.
“The reality is that if people were really listening to the very strong guidance from the government, they would not venture this far beyond their immediate neighbourhood,” he said.
“Yes, these roads are public roads, but Covid-19 restrictions are in place and people should be thinking of the wider welfare of our communities, rather than being able to ‘go wherever they want to’ for recreation.”
While Mr Murray appreciates people are keen for fresh air and exercise, it needs to be within their immediate neighbourhoods.
“The only time you should be driving is to get essential supplies, and there should only be one person in the vehicle,” he says.
“We are taking extraordinary measures, but these are extraordinary circumstances. Stay home. Save lives. It’s as simple as that.”