No green light, but some progress on Ruataniwha Dam

By Victoria White

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Kathy Neale was among those who gathered outside the regional council yesterday to protest against the Ruataniwha Dam. Photo / Warren Buckland
Kathy Neale was among those who gathered outside the regional council yesterday to protest against the Ruataniwha Dam. Photo / Warren Buckland

Two new conditions will have to be met before the Ruataniwha project can receive an $80 million ratepayer-funded investment, the Hawke's Bay Regional Council agreed yesterday.

A large crowd turned out for yesterday's council meeting, which had been heralded as when a decision would be made on the future of the scheme. It has been stalled since a new council was elected last year.

Although council did not make a decision "one way or another" on the scheme yesterday, they did agree to impose two new conditions, and to refine some existing conditions which must be met before it invests in the scheme.

There were five conditions precedent in the spotlight yesterday - including a new one that a land exchange involving Department of Conservation land be resolved before council proceeds to financial close.

The 22ha of Ruahine Forest Park land in question has been at the centre of legal battles since 2015, and is currently being dealt with by the Supreme Court.

However the second new condition precedent was the more contentious, as it sought to give the council assurance that desired environmental outcomes could be met with the scheme.

Critics of the scheme have pointed to the negative environmental impacts posed by it - impacts highlighted by the recent council-commissioned review of the project.

So, the condition - amended by councillor Tom Belford - aimed to put stronger environmental safeguards in place around the scheme.

Specifically, it would ensure the council was satisfied the nutrient management requirements of the Tukituki Plan (Plan Change 6) and the scheme consents could be met through environmental management plans, and measures before financial close.

Mr Belford suggested this because it could ensure there were measures to protect against environmental risks - there was no existing condition which did so, compared to the water sales condition which could protect against financial risk.

Having evidence that farmers appreciated the environmental expectations of the scheme, and could demonstrate how they would address these was "not an unfair request", he said.

To wait until after the dam had been built to find these requirements could not be met "is comical frankly".

"We need to see this reassurance earlier than that, we need to see it before financial close," he said.

The amendment had support from the majority of other councillors, including Fenton Wilson, who said it alleviated concerns he had about the condition not applying to the entire catchment.

Councillor Peter Beaven said it was surprising "given the angst of the environmental community in Hawke's Bay" that such a condition precedent had not been included earlier.

If farmers did engage with the Farm Environmental Management Plan (FEMP) process, "then there's a good chance that this dam might go ahead, but that is in farmers' hands".

After last year's local body election a review was commissioned into the key legal, financial, economic, environmental and engineering elements of the scheme.

The conditions precedent discussed yesterday - from increasing the amount of water sales uptake, to a long-winded land exchange matter - would work to address some issues highlighted in this review.

As seats filled up inside the council yesterday with concerned residents, national lobby group representatives, and three of Hawke's Bay's mayors, a group gathered outside to protest against the scheme.

More than an hour ahead of the meeting start time, about 20 people brought signs and placards to protest against the scheme.

One was Warren Kohlis, who said he was there to speak out against the dam, which was a "wicked waste of ratepayer money".

Mr Kohlis said he felt the scheme had deterred council's focus from the major environmental issues facing the region, which the money slated for the scheme would be better put toward fixing.

Napier resident Matt LeQuesne spoke out against two proposed boons of the scheme.

The jobs, and economic benefits it was said to create would not eventuate, he said, and fear over drinking water safety meant there could be no recreational activities on the lake created by the dam.

RWSS Conditions Precedent agreed to yesterday:

1. RECONFIRMED - Resource Consents: While the condition precedent of workable resource consents was satisfied, this could need reconfirmation depending on an Environment Court declaration on interpretation of the consents conditions.

2. RECONFIRMED - Construction: The condition precedent for a bankable construction contract was deemed to be met last year, but could also require reconfirmation depending if any "material variations" arise before financial close.

3. AMEND - Water Sales: Council agreed to increase this condition precedent, which was previously agreed to be met, of water sales uptake from 40 million cu m to 50 million cu m.

4. NEW - Land Exchange: A new condition precedent that the land exchange involving DoC land be resolved before financial close was agreed to by council.

5. NEW - Environmental Management: Council agreed to add a new condition precedent that before financial close, council must be satisfied the nutrient management requirements set for all farmers in the catchment under Plan Change 6 and related consents, as well as other environmental outcomes required by the Board of Inquiry, can be met through practices committed to in FEMPS (with a reasonable number approved prior to financial close) and other environmental management measures.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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