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Let the harvest begin (3 comments)

March 16, 2015

As we endure this dreary, rainy day, take satisfaction in knowing that Hawke’s Bay’s 2015 wine harvest has begun.

From the hand pickers …


To the mechanical harvesters … [click image to view video]

Here’ s hoping for another great Hawke’s Bay vintage.

Tom Belford

P.S. BayBuzz is producing a ‘coffee table’ book, a history telling the fascinating stories of Hawke’s Bay winemaking, written by Mark Sweet (with a ‘vineyard to bottle’ essay by Peter Cowley), photographed by Tim Whittaker, and designed by Max Parks, for publication in November. A project supported by WineWorks. Stay tuned!


Needed: Plan B … Farm the Water (4 comments)

March 13, 2015

Last weekend HB Today ran a ‘Talking Point’ I submitted (less a sentence or two) proposing an initiative to look systematically at alternative proven farming methods that would help the region deal much better — profit-wise and environmentally — with dry climate conditions.

Here is the article.

Needed: Plan B … Farm the Water!

The Hawke’s Bay Regional Council needs a Plan B. A comprehensive plan of action to replace its singular — and all-consuming — focus on building a mega-dam at the top of the Tukituki.

The dam has been presented as a silver bullet for increasing farm productivity in Central Hawke’s Bay while simultaneously improving the environmental condition of the Tukituki river system, despite massive projected farming intensification.

Both outcomes are doubtful.

And whether one accepts that reality yet or not, the dam twists in the wind, its germination costing $250,000+ a month, since sufficient farmer/irrigators are yet to endorse the project with their cheque books.

Nevertheless, HBRC has refused to date to consider or present proven alternatives that might better enable CHB farmers (to say nothing of other farmers in Hawke’s Bay) to optimize the value of their productive land in dry conditions, to improve soil health and mitigate erosion (especially in hill country), and to better capture and store the rainwater that is available.

Moreover, other cutting edge farmers and farm consultants are demonstrating how sharply reduced fertilizer use (and therefore markedly reduced nutrient leaching) and improved farm productivity and profitability can co-exist.

Although approaches to accomplish each of these goals are being proven today in various parts of New Zealand, HBRC has shown zero interest in those approaches or their practitioners.

A miserable failure of leadership. Five members of our Regional Council – you can guess who they are — have twice voted down my resolutions merely proposing a Hawke’s Bay forum to explore these approaches and showcase their advocates.

Advocates like sheep farmer Doug Avery — from drier-than-Hawke’s-Bay-Marlborough – and Lincoln University dryland farming expert Derrick Moot, who have shown conclusively that smart growing practices can yield twice the return to farmers as irrigation. Indeed, Avery thinks of himself as farming water, not farming sheep. Farmers like Avery are making 25% rates of return or better with their dryland systems. Did you hear that CHB farmers?!

The current Listener magazine (‘Going with the Flow’, 26 Feb) profiles the accomplishments of these two (and others). And the farm trade press regularly covers them. Farm consultant Graeme Ogle, who has studied systems like Avery’s around New Zealand, says of Avery: “I think Doug Avery single-handedly has probably brought about the biggest change in farming practice in New Zealand.” Ogle adds: “It’s always an option not to irrigate. And the best option is to drought-proof your farm.” Did you hear that CHB farmers?!

But as I said, don’t expect the Regional Council to take note of the alternatives to irrigation promoted by these achievers. The accomplishments of Avery and his successful band challenge the case for the Ruataniwha dam.

So some of us are not waiting any longer for HBRC leadership, at either the political or staff level … although we hope they will follow.

A working party consisting of experienced farmers, soil experts, farm advisors and farm economists is now taking shape. This ‘hands-on’ group aims to showcase farming practices that can sustainably improve farm productivity here in Hawke’s Bay. And to do so not on some theoretical basis, but by helping design practical farm plans, farm by farm, and demonstration projects that can achieve the complementary and simultaneous goals of increasing profitability and improving the environment.

The first focus of the group will be on Central Hawke’s Bay, because farmers there have been promised much that the dam will simply not deliver. They deserve a Plan B.

That said, the methods and strategy involved will have applicability and relevance throughout Hawke’s Bay, and hopefully farmers throughout the region will want to become informed and involved. But all of this will require financial assistance.

This is the kind of initiative that HBRC should welcome and support. But unfortunately, when it comes to helping farmers raise the bar, HBRC’s ruling group is either remarkably unmotivated, or utterly clueless about successful ‘multiple bottom line’ practices.

A real pity, as some work generated by the $20 million dollars (and rising) spent on preparing for the dam (eg, detailed soil mapping) could be salvaged and used constructively in a Plan B initiative.

Similarly, the requirement now set by Plan Change 6 for 1000+ farmers in CHB to prepare Farm Environmental Management Plans (FEMPs) could be much better conceived and better supported to produce Adaptive Farming Plans. Such plans, designed to achieve both economic and environmental goals, would be of far greater value to farmers and the broader community alike.

The working party is now organising itself, expanding participation, and refining its plan of action. Stay tuned!

Tom Belford

P.S. Here is the Talking Point as it appeared in HB Today.


When will the s**t hit the fan? Part 2 (one comment so far)

March 8, 2015

Back in June 2009, having made a submission to the Napier City Council, I then wrote a post about Napier’s infrastructure shortcomings, titled When will the s**t hit the fan? 

Now that post was about Napier’s sewage and stormwater disposal problems, which were candidly reviewed in an appendix on water system issues, required at the time as part of each council’s LTP documentation. Somehow, the candor in this appendix managed to slip by the sanitising eyes and ‘Delete’ keys of then-ruling Mayor Arnott and chief executive Neil Taylor.

In view of the current Dalton/Jack regime’s histrionics over supposedly unfair treatment by the Local Government Commission regarding lagging infrastructure spending (with the focus this time on roads), I thought it might help the debate to remind the Napier parties involved of their own  assessment of the dilapidated state of their wastewater handling systems.

Here’s the pertinent part of that original post (and submission) … and indeed the question remains: When will the s**t hit the fan?!

“…the “biggest ticket” item in the Napier LTCCP that I find alarming is the state of Napier’s sewage and stormwater systems.

As cheery and upbeat as the LTCCP documents are regarding all other aspects of the Napier good life, we find the extreme opposite in the discussions of Napier’s waste!

The NCC would have us consider that the cost of kerbside recycling is the paramount “waste” issue, when in fact the far more serious – and expensive – issues relate to managing Napier’s stormwater and sewage.

It goes well beyond the scope of this submission to comment fully on what appears to be the quite fragile and over-taxed state of Napier’s stormwater and sewage systems. The documents give the impression that NCC is triaging its spending against rising needs, as opposed to fronting up fully – and being honest with ratepayers – about the inherent risks and costs associated with living in a low-lying area that requires constant pumping of all wastes, posing public health risks as well as increasing threats to the integrity of the underlying aquifer that supplies drinking water.

From the LTCCP:

• Infill development, which is assumed to account for 53% of Napier’s growth in coming years, is projected to increase stormwater run-off three times.

• Although stormwater run-off is impacting the environmentally sensitive Ahuriri Estuary, industrial development is envisioned for the adjacent Lagoon Farm.

• Listing stormwater items in need of funding, the LTCCP observes: “Each of the items requires a significant expenditure exceeding six years of the accumulated annual stormwater pipe upgrading budget to achieve any significant benefit to the area.”

• Parts of Bayview, and all of Jervoistown and Meeanee, have no reticulated sewage systems (and no plans to provide such) and rely on on-site septic systems … in the face of more stringent regulation of on-site systems (many of which are known to be sub-standard) about to issue from the Regional Council, if not from central Government.

• Meantime, NCC hopefully awaits confirmation that an unproven Hastings waste treatment system, which has plenty of critics, will indeed pass muster and represent a solution that Napier can embrace.

• Says the LTCCP: “Both the Latham and Greenmeadows sewerage systems are overtaxed during periods of wet weather.”

• Referring to the difficulty of monitoring the degrading of pipes by wastewater and sewage, the LTCCP observes: “The relatively recent usage of in-line cameras has both provided the means to investigate, but has also revealed the potential extent of problems.”

• And commenting further on the system: “It should be noted that the proposed renewal budget, based on the current set of standard economical lives that is used, is not sufficient to meet the long-term decline in service potential.”

I could go on. The overall impression … the s**t could hit the fan at any time!

One wonders whether Councillors have even bothered to read this material, let alone appreciate its implications. Were I a Napier Councillor, this situation would terrify me. I would be demanding an outside review of Napier’s stormwater and wastewater systems. And by “outside review” I mean independent peer review by experts who are not presently on the NCC teat as employees or consultants. An independent “report card” should be issued to the public.

These systems appear neglected, and their improvement under-funded, while this Council stands by and asserts its financial prudence. These are arguably the most vital systems and services that NCC provides its residents. If they are literally “going under,” the Mayor and Councillors should be held accountable, and of course the LTCCP spending levels should be modified accordingly.”

One might reasonably ask: Has anything changed since 2009? Other than building a sewage treatment plant, that like the Hastings plant, passes its remaining effluent over ‘sacred rocks’ on its way into Hawke Bay.

Short-changing maintenance of roads might be just the tip of the iceberg over at NCC. A situation that begs for accountability regardless of where one stands on amalgamation.

Although I can’t help asking … Doesn’t all the fussing and fuming of consultants and councils over ‘who’s got the numbers right?’ in and of itself underscore the case for amalgamation? It’s simply ridiculous — third worldly — that we are having such a bun fight in 21st century Hawke’s Bay. Alexander the Great kept better track of his assets and supply lines when he conquered the known world by 323 BC.

And then there’s the fundamental question: Shouldn’t Hawke’s Bay residents enjoy the same level of infrastrucutre support regardless of where in the Bay they live?

Tom Belford


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Secret Napier Plan Revealed! (3 comments)

March 5, 2015

BayBuzz has gotten exclusive access to a top secret Napier City Council action plan called ‘Operation Independence’.

With dozens of personnel grievances pending at NCC, it hasn’t been difficult for BayBuzz to find disgruntled employees – like Ron ‘Gingko’ Massey — eager to help pierce the wall of secrecy that usually protects Mayor Dalton, chief executive Wayne Jack and their somnambulist councillors.

Operation Independence is designed by Australian consultants (“We wanted true independence,” said CEO Jack) as Napier’s Armageddon response should amalgamation of the region proceed.

The plan includes these major elements.

Border Security

Responsibility for erecting impenetrable border fortifications has been assigned to the feisty members of the Taradale RSA. The plan calls for a wall of four metre pine poles, logged from the hills behind EIT, topped with razor wire, encircling the land boundaries of the city. Some indecision remains concerning the northern frontier of the city, as no one is quite sure where Napier ends and Hastings begins.

To protect against unwanted visitors arriving by sea, tugboats from Napier Port will be requisitioned and outfitted with heavy caliber guns and torpedoes. Rear Admiral Neville Smith will command the naval operation.

Infrastructure Investment

Part of the reason NCC seems to have ‘under-invested’ in staples like roads and sewer/stormwater lines is that planners have been squirreling money away for a calamity like amalgamation. However, this scheme has now been exposed by the Local Government Commission, corroborating what inside sources have told BayBuzz.

“We’ve been told all spending is ‘Go!’ if it relates to Operation Independence,” revealed one insider.

A ‘Top Secret’ comparison of Hastings and Napier ‘Critical Infrastructure and Amenities’ has been completed, identifying what additional facilities Napier will require once it declares independence and closes its wall. Here, in brief, is the assessment …

What Hastings and Napier both already have

  • Miniature golf
  • Art gallery
  • Movie theatres
  • Mexican food
  • Brothels
  • Cafes
  • Hockey turfs
  • Cycle paths
  • Pak ‘n Save
  • Sewage treatment plant
  • Bottled aquifer water

What Napier already has that Hastings doesn’t have
(“These are the building blocks of our independence,” proclaims Mayor Dalton. “Here is our competitive advantage.”)

  • Real airport (“If we needed one, we’d go out to Bridge Pa and build it,” retorts Mayor Lawrence Yule.)
  • Port (“If we needed one, we’d go out to Haumoana and build it,” retorts Mayor Lawrence Yule.)
  • Freedom campers
  • Functioning municipal theatre (“If we needed one, we’d go out to … uh, let me get back to you on that,” hedges Mayor Lawrence Yule.)
  • Aquarium
  • Museum
  • Yacht Club (“We’re about wakas and sculls,” sniffs Yule.)
  • EIT
  • Napier Life magazine (Ooops, no more!)
  • McLean Park
  • New ‘Business Hub’ (Say what?)
  • Pettigrew-Green arena
  • Meeanee Speedway (Mayor Dalton views this as a key strategic asset. “I’d rather give up the sewage plant,” he says.)

What Hastings has that Napier doesn’t have
(“This is the kind of stuff we’d like to add,” says Mayor Dalton.)

  • Hospital
  • Carl’s Jr
  • Black Barn Outdoor Cinema
  • More land above sea level (Operation Independence includes dikes)
  • Kmart
  • Horse racing and Horse of the Year
  • Real prison
  • Civil defense headquarters
  • Te Mata Peak
  • Outstanding sand beaches
  • Call centre
  • Prize-winning golf course
  • Landfill site
  • Food

What Napier wants that Hastings doesn’t have

  • Velodrome
  • Really big swimming pool
  • Wave pool

The costs for these urgently needed missing amenities — not roads and sewage lines — is actually what will drive NCC’s finances into a multi-million deficit … if Operation Independence is put into play. “A small price to pay for our freedom,” thunders Mayor Dalton. “Still, we will need to make some tough choices … Which does independent Napier need more – a prison, a hospital, or a Carl’s Jr?”

Unresolved Issues

BayBuzz is told that Operation Independence is a work in progress, with these strategic options still to be resolved …

How to protect Allen Dick’s Napier-Wairoa rail line (we knew there was an ulterior motive behind Councillor Dick’s rail advocacy). The rail line is vulnerable to sabotage as it runs through the treacherous northern Hastings frontier, yet it must serve as an essential emergency supply link to ally Wairoa and its bountiful feral goats.

Whether to concede the Awatoto industrial zone to Hastings. Some inside Major Dalton’s more intimate circle, led by socialite Deborah Dalliance, regard the zone as “unbecoming” to an Art Deco showpiece. However, his strategic advisors are concerned about what to do with Napier’s s**t if the Awatoto-based sewage plant is abandoned. Inside sources tell BayBuzz that contingency plans are being developed that would see Napier’s s**t dumped into the Ahuriri estuary, “along with all the rest of our crap” as one official was alleged to remark.

Moreover, keeping Awatoto and its Ravensdown plant would enable Napier to starve Hastings farmers and growers of the fertiliser to which they’ve become addicted. “All’s fair in war,” says CEO Jack.

Whether to allow non-Napier residents and businesses access to the port and airport. In an options paper shown to BayBuzz, one faction argues for a totally sealed border. “We can live off our tourism industry and import everything we need, without opening the door to terrorists or crass commercial incursions,” one Napier councillor is quoted. But others argue that imposing a toll tax on Hastings-based users of these facilities would enrich Napier beyond imagination (“They grow and make everything,” noted one councillor. “There’s no dishonor in being a parasite,” CEO Jack wrote in the margin.) and it would be the ultimate salt in the wound to a demoralised Hastings.

Whether to expel Napier residents over age 60. Mayor Dalton puts it succinctly: “Without a hospital, these old folks will become, well, deadweight. We have to think of what’s best for the many … that’s why a velodrome tops my list.”

What to do about CHB. “Cut ‘em loose,” says Dalton. “We don’t need more sheep in Napier. This is about realpolitik … survival of the fittest.”

The action plans included in Operation Independence have been formulated under NCC’s little known ‘War Powers Act’ and as such will not be subject to public consultation. “This is Napier,” says CEO Jack, “Love it or leave it!”

Tom Belford


Oil pressure drops (one comment so far)

February 19, 2015

The huge drop in world oil prices, expected to linger, has significantly lowered the prospect of Hawke’s Bay becoming the next Taranaki any time soon.

On February 17th TAG Oil, the company most involved in oil and gas exploration in Hawke’s Bay, issued its latest financials. The report included this assessment of the global situation and its impact on TAG’s capital expenditure plans:

Screen shot 2015-02-19 at 12.43.32 AM



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Dam(n) DIN! (2 comments)

February 5, 2015

Yesterday the Tukituki Board of Inquiry (BOI) rejected HBRC’s proposed approach to addressing the river’s water quality, and in so doing, dealt a major — perhaps fatal — body blow to HBRIC’s proposed dam.

Not a real surprise, as HBRC and its slow-learning legal and planning advisers were simply trying to end-run a position the BOI was already committed to (and a position affirmed by the High Court).

But there’s a huge irony here, as the BOI was originally selected as the smooth decision-making pathway that HBRIC expected would avoid the pesky Environment Court and its irksome environmental sensibilities.

Throughout the HBRC-touted ‘stakeholder’ process on the dam, chaired by pre-Councillor Hewitt and chaperoned by Councillor Scott, environmentalists were ignored. The Council viewed their mere attendance as ticking the box for consultation. Consequently the revisionist HBRC account of that process omits the fact that all the environmental participants refused to endorse the final report! I was one of those.

Was there a warning sign there?

Nonetheless, the HBRC effectively said “Get stuffed” to the environmentalists. “Fight us at the BOI.”

And now — three times by my count (twice via the BOI and once in the High Court) — the environmentalists have successfully said in return: “No, you get stuffed!”

What environmentalists don’t want stuffed (further) is the Tukituki.

So to protect the river’s ecological health they’ve insisted that farmers be required to meet responsible limits on their nitrogen leaching into the catchment. That’s what the DIN (Dissolved Inorganic Nitrogen) limit is all about.

HBRIC now must assess whether such limits will allow for the scale of farming intensification on which the economic case for the dam is predicated. When the BOI proposed the DIN limit in its initial decision, HBRIC was aghast and declared such a restriction would kill the dam. Now that the DIN limit will stand, it will be interesting indeed to see HBRIC’s fresh assessment.

Mind you, the matter is not yet fully closed.

Having stipulated yesterday that there can be no substitute for regulating DIN, the BOI still needs to hear from the parties how that regulation should be implemented. The parties involved in the matter have been given until the end of February to go through a process of tabling their recommendations, responding to each other, conferencing, and reporting back to the BOI.

Only then will the BOI decide on the final scheme.

So now two of the key conditions that the proposed dam must meet to be acceptable to the Regional Council are under severe stress: 1) will the environmental requirements be ‘workable’ as assessed by HBRIC; and b) will farmer sign-up for the proposed dam’s water (already sluggish at best) somehow revive, or will it be further deterred by tougher environmental protections?

And underlying both of those issues: will HBRC fund another three months or more of HBRIC’s paddling upstream, at $250,000+ per month?

Stay tuned!

Tom Belford

P.S. This link will take you to the BOI’s latest directive.


Do we need HBRIC? (7 comments)

January 27, 2015

At the Regional Council’s last meeting in December, we received a progress report on the dam project from our holding company, HBRIC.

It reminded me of this Dilbert cartoon …

reporting progress

If there isn’t any progress, use a larger font!

It worked at HBRC in December. Sufficient Councillors responded with the ‘slow clap’.

The next meeting of HBRC is Wednesday.

We’re supposed to get a regular monthly update from HBRIC on its activities. Not on the agenda. Apparently we get one when they feel like it.

We were told (at the December meeting) to expect a report of significant progress over the coming month in getting farmers to sign water user agreements. As one HBRIC director noted … farmers do work over the holidays. No such report is on the agenda.

We were told (at the December meeting) that it would cost about $250,000 a month (excluding HBRIC CEO Andrew Newman’s salary) to continue the dam project after 31 March (when current funding ends). But HBRIC directors suggested that un-named other parties with an interest in the scheme would be recruited to, as they said, “share the pain”. No report on the Wednesday agenda on funding either.

As usual, HBRIC’s gone silent.

Before arriving on the Council I supported the creation of HBRIC, with the proviso that strong accountability provisions be incorporated into the relevant establishment and governing documents. That never happened.

And now, about 16 months into my elected term, I’ve found HBRIC to be consistently and fiercely resistant to genuine transparency and public accountability. I and some of my colleagues have scratched and clawed for the few scraps of information we have received about the dam project. On occasion we’ve received information only after it’s been shared elsewhere. We’ve been ‘granted’ private briefings with note-taking barred. Most discussions occur in workshops and public-excluded sessions.

Without accountability, what we now have is an HBRIC team preparing to ask us to throw good money after bad. A project that is twisting in the wind. A punch drunk HBRIC/HBRC team committed to an environmental ‘strategy’ for the Tukituki that has been knocked down twice, but still raring to go for another round.

Moreover, there’s not been the slightest hint that ‘oversight’ by HBRIC has added one iota of benefit to the governance of HBRIC’s one and only existing asset … Napier Port. HBRIC has added zero commercial acumen to an already capable Port Board. If anything, when serious problems arose last harvest season with Port logistics, HBRIC was imply an irrelevant layer interposed between Council and the Port team.

As presently envisioned, if the dam were to proceed, a separate company would be set up, like the Port, to run the scheme. And just like the Port, one further layer away from accountability. Even worse, if this dam company were to be infected with the same leadership and operational style as HBRIC, the public might as well forget about that company ever being called to account.

All that HBRIC has accomplished — both as supervisor of the Port Board and as manager of the dam project — is obfuscation. If HBRIC has any constituency in Hawke’s Bay outside its existing directors, a gaggle of Regional Councillors and its CEO, I’ve yet to discover them.

Yet on Wednesday Regional Councillors are being asked to approve a process for replacing the ‘transition board’ of HBRIC with a permanent board. In other words, a candidate selection process.

Based on what I’ve witnessed as a Councillor, I’m not inclined to endorse a candidate selection process. What we should be considering is the dis-establishment of HBRIC.

Of course, my view will be a minority view. So I guess I will need to console myself that maybe what is being approved Wednesday is actually a de-selection process.

Tom Belford