Protest placards removed on opening of Lake Dunstan cycling and walking trail

Freedom of speech?

That right was in question for the group behind a short-lived floating protest on Lake Dunstan on Saturday.

The protest was set up on the lake opposite Old Cromwell to coincide with the official public opening of the Lake Dunstan Cycling and Walking Trail.

No sooner had cyclists set off from the Clyde end of the new trail, than efforts began to remove protest placards on pontoons placed on the lake by members of Save our Lake Dunstan (Sold). All traces of the protest were removed before the first cyclists arrived.

Sold spokesman Brendon Urlich said the clampdown was a surprise.

“They [the placards] were removed by order of the harbourmaster, under the watch of police.

“It was a peaceful protest.”

Otago Harbourmaster Steve Rushbrook said he was notified in the morning and had the signs removed to maintain navigational safety.

“I didn’t deal with it in a protest manner, it was all from a navigational perspective.”

There had been no prior warning of objects being placed in the lake, he said.

Urlich said he believed the reaction was excessive.

The irony was the Cromwell Heritage Precinct was the area most affected by the bay near the confluence of the Clutha and Kawarau Rivers being heavily silted and infested with weed.

When the water level was low, it was unsightly and smelly, he said.

The placards spelt that out; “Contact Energy fix this lake”; “Stunning bike track, stinking lake”; “This beach is a dammed disgrace”; and “Contact, good neighbours, yeah right”.

A jet ski used to remove the placards became stuck in the silt and debris the placards referred to, Urlich said.

Cromwell was a tourist town and the cycle trail would further cement that status, making the lack of action to maintain the foreshore hard to comprehend.

Contact Energy said it always knew the silting would occur but few locals had known that, Urlich said.

“While in the medium to long term we seem to be facing the prospect of a braided river, in the meantime some judicious work by local contractors could keep the boat ramp, the jetty at Old Cromwell and the beach to the confluence usable and attractive.”

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