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The Big Six Issues (no comments yet)

September 23, 2014

The Regional Council is now conducting informal consultation around six key issues that could be addressed in next year’s re–write of its Long Term Plan (LTP).

The ‘Big Six’ issues are:

1. Our Energy Future — what path should we be on … oil & gas, solar, electric cars, converting waste to energy, energy conservation?

2. Relationship With Maori — with numerous treaty settlements coming to closure, including commitments councils must meet, as well as creating new governance arrangements and economic potential, plus a resurgence of marae-based leadership, we need to revamp our formal and informal consultation and decision-making practices.

3. Climate Change — it’s real, it’s happening, it will have major impacts on Haawke’s Bay. How must we mitigate and adapt?

4. Connecting Our Region — roads, railroads, buses, i-Ways and fibre lines, port and airport, how do we best connect ourselves in the region … and our region to the outside world?

5. Regional Economic Development — ‘one for all and all for one’ … or ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’ … how do we get off the bottom rungs of NZ’s socio-economic ladder?

6. Wise Land Use — our land and soil is essentially irreplaceable … what should we be doing to protect, restore and enhance our most precious regional asset?

These issues are briefly teased out in this highly readable 16-page booklet, The BIG SIX. I urge you to take a look, have a think, and get your views to the Regional Council.

As I said above, this is an informal consultation (more information on the process here). It will help inform the Council discussions through the balance of the year that will shape what initiatives and funding priorities are set forth in the next draft LTP, which will appear next March/April.

It would be most helpful if you can get your thoughts in by October 15th, as HBRC will be deep into planning in November and December. Two opportunities to meet with all Councillors are scheduled for 24 September, 3:30-4:30 and 8 October, 3:30-4:30 (both sessions at HBRC Council Chamber in Napier).

However, I and other Councillors will welcome your views at any point. And presentations can be made to inquiring organisations — contact helen@hbrc.govt.nz

And of course the formal consultation process will still occur when the draft LTP is issued next year.

Look forward to hearing from you.

Tom Belford

P.S. The Big Six exercise is an effort to raise issues over and above the work that HBRC must do ‘routinely’ given its statutory responsibilities in areas like water quality, biosecurity, flood control and civil defence planning. So don’t be alarmed that such issues are not highlighted in The Big Six document.

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Oil news (one comment so far)

September 18, 2014

Earlier this week, TAG Oil announced it was capping and abandoning its exploratory drilling site outside Gisborne (Waitangi Valley-1). Why? Too dangerous.

Their official announcement read: “Waitangi Valley-1 encountered very high hydrocarbon zone pressures at shallow depths that cannot easily be compared to anywhere else in the world. [Ed: italics added.] We understood this program would be challenging and we encountered extremely difficult drilling conditions in the first 856m of drilling. After consulting with worldwide drilling experts and considering all data ourselves, we have made a difficult decision to plug and abandon Waitangi Valley-1 before reaching the intended total depth of 3600m, to maintain the safety and integrity of the operation.”

TAG is re-deploying the drilling rig to Taranaki … to the relief of some on the East Coast, I suspect.

Ironically, last week a group of Hawke’s Bay Regional Councillors, including me, plus mayors Peter Butler and Craig Little, visited Taranaki for a long day of exploring oil and gas development there. Unfortunately we spent only an hour in focused group exchange with Taranaki staff regarding how they oversee oil and gas operations there. I’ve attached here the Powerpoint presentation we received … heaps of basic information there. However, in view of the criticisms about Taranaki made by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment in her recent report on oil and gas development (she termed Taranaki’s approach “extraordinarily permissive”), we could have devoted half a day to substantive discussion.

Instead, we took the guided tour. The production and drilling sites we visited were impressive in terms of industry technology and professionalism. Certainly we benefited from getting a firsthand sense of the what actually happens on the ground. But that’s no substitute for serious questioning of the regulatory regime.

And of course we met with no critics of Taranaki’s oil and gas programme or its regional/local government regulatory oversight.

Returning from Taranaki, we visited the Horizon Regional Council, where I met Councillor Rachel Keedwell, a PhD ecologist.

Rachel had made a visit of her own to Taranaki, and did a lot more probing that we HBRC folks did. I’ve attached here her report on her trip, and urge you to read it. Among her concerns:

  • Very little control over where wells are located (a primary concern of the Parliamentary Commissioner)
  • No prior — and very little ongoing — monitoring of water quality
  • Responsibility for abandoned wells falls on landholder and community
  • Lack of clarity over who is deemed an affected party (which affects public notification or lack thereof)
  • Non-disclosure agreements forced upon landowners
  • Adverse impacts on adjoining property values and lack of disclosure on LIM reports
  • Waste waters being discharged to waterways
  • Overstatement of local job opportunities
  • Adverse health impacts

And here’s her overall warning:

“…what I saw has left me with grave concerns that Horizons is seriously unprepared for the expansion of this industry in terms of ensuring that our communities are adequately protected. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment recently concluded that the regulatory framework for oil and gas production in New Zealand is not adequate and that regulators may be left ‘scrambling to catch up’ if the industry continues to expand. From what I saw of the industry and the impact on communities, I believe her conclusions are accurate. We need to get onto this as an urgent priority if we want to have a chance of living up to our vision statement of making this region a great place to live, work and play.”

Amen! The same applies to Hawke’s Bay and our Regional Council. Indeed, the recent brouhaha over seismic testing in Napier simply points up the our lack of preparedness, complicated by overlapping jurisdictions (both regional and territorial councils have responsibilities).

I have pressed for $200,000 to be earmarked for the Regional Council to ramp up its own investigation of how we would oversee and regulate oil and gas development if it occurs in Hawke’s Bay. The money — approved by Councillors Belford, Barker, Beaven, Dick and Graham — is presently in the budget. But not all councillors feel the same sense of urgency about getting on with the job!

So, do your homework. Check out the two attachments. And get prepared to weigh in on Hawke’s Bay’s energy future.

Tom Belford

P.S. HBRC has invited the Parliamentary Commissioner to visit Hawke’s Bay and brief us on her recommendations. We’re expecting that visit in early 2015.

 

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Let there be light! (2 comments)

August 28, 2014

We walked … because we’re not mushrooms.

Click to enlarge.

2 comments »

The Black Budget (6 comments)

August 24, 2014

The US Government has what’s known as “The Black Budget” a top-secret allocation, estimated at $52.6 billion in 2013, that funds the country’s covert action, surveillance and counterintelligence programmes across more than a dozen agencies.

Here in Hawke’s Bay, we too have a “Black Budget” – the closely guarded amount to be spent by HBRIC, the Regional Council’s holding company, to develop and market the CHB dam project.

On Wednesday, the Council will be debating – in public-excluded session, as matters now stand – a “re-forecasting” of this budget.

One need not be a brain surgeon to surmise that a “re-forecast” involves an additional spend.

At its last public accounting of the dam development spend, presented at the 30 July Council meeting, HBRIC reported that $11.5 million in capital expenditure and $529,362 in operating expenditure had occurred in the year through June 2014. This so-called “Phase 2” spending is in addition to $3.5 million spent in “Phase 1”. All in, by my calculations, about $15.5 million to date. About $2.7 million has been underwritten by the Ministry for Primary Industries, with some additional contribution by institutional investors (now departed).

And now a “re-forecast” on Wednesday – to be decided in secret against the backdrop of an ever changing “financial close” date by which a yes/no decision on the dam is projected to be made … now suggested as 31 March by HBRIC.

The current legal appeals regarding the Board of Inquiry’s (BOI) plan for the Tukituki will not be heard until November, at the most optimistic scheduling, with those matters not resolved fully probably until next year. Further uncertainty is created by HBRIC’s application to take all 15 million cubic metres of water made available from the Ruataniwha aquifer in the BOI’s decision. A number of growers have indicated they will challenge that proposal, which bears on who might have access to aquifer water instead of dam water.

So one might reasonably worry that the “re-forecast” period required to be funded could well extend beyond the new projected March close date.

When is enough, enough? How much is required?

The public has every right to know. Absolutely nothing about this “re-forecast” deserves to be considered in secret.

And therefore an attempt will be made to conduct this debate in public session on Wednesday.

If that fails, as past history suggests it will, then I urge you to approach the councillors of your choice on Thursday with this simple question: “Did you vote yesterday to allocate additional funding to progress the Ruataniwha water storage scheme?”

I will be happy to report in BayBuzz the response you get.

Tom Belford

 

 

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Myriver.org (no comments yet)

July 25, 2014

Entrepreneur/philanthropist Gareth Morgan has been weighing in on water issues lately, including the new freshwater management standards, in terms quite critical  of Government policy.

He’s gone about his self- and public education process very carefully.

For example, here are the water scientists he assembled as a panel to assess NZ’s water quality situation:

Dr Bob Wilcock— NIWA
Dr Roger Young – Cawthron Institute
Dr Rick Pridmore – Dairy NZ
Dr Mike Joy, Massey University
Dr Phil Mladenov – Fertiliser Manufacturers Association
Dr Alison Dewes – Agricultural consultant
Graham Sevicke-Jones – Greater Wellington Regional Council
Professor Jon Harding – University of Canterbury
Professor David Hamilton – University of Waikato
Dr Marc Schallenburg – University of Otago
Dr Rich McDowell – Agresearch
Shirley Hayward – Dairy NZ
Dr Clive Howard-Williams – NIWA
Professor Gillian Lewis, Auckland University
Ken Taylor – Environment Canterbury
Dr Mike Scarsbrook – Dairy NZ

Looks like a pretty credible group to me. Check out the 21 Scientist Statements they agreed upon, in most cases unanimously.

One of the panelists, Graham Sevicke-Jones, was formerly HBRC’s chief scientist, but left for greener pastures … or cleaner water, as some have it.

The results of this assessment are presented very effectively on the myriver.org.nz  website, sponsored by Morgan.

I urge you to take a look. Check out the interactive feature that let’s you pinpoint a place on a map to report on river pollution. Use it!

Tom

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Who’s in charge there, anyway?! (11 comments)

July 23, 2014

Since writing my Murky Waters post on Sunday about the modus operandi of the Regional Council and its holding company, HBRIC, I’ve had numerous inquiries … mostly incredulous.

The gist of the questions … “Who’s in charge there, anyway?”

Most people have the quaint notion that their elected representatives, Councillors, are supposed to be in charge.

So they naively assume that if a Councillor asks for a piece of official information — for instance, a boilerplate Water Users Agreement, the financial linchpin of the proposed dam scheme — the response should be automatic and straightforward … staff should provide that information forthwith.

Or, if HBRIC decides to file a resource consent for 15 million cubic metres of aquifer water, elected Councillors should not find out about it two months later, from outside sources.

So the questioners press on … “Who exactly makes the decisions to say NO to information requests from elected Councillors?” [Or at least from certain Councillors.]

Here’s my impression.

If the information is held by HBRIC, access to it is denied by HBRIC chief executive Andrew Newman and/or chairman Andy Pearce. Presumably with acquiescence of other HBRIC directors.

Actually, it’s not considered kosher for mere elected Councillors to request information directly from HBRIC.

We are expected to make such requests through our Regional Council chairman, Fenton Wilson, and/or interim chief executive Liz Lambert. Either one might or might not accede to, endorse or pursue the request. A case in point would be Councillor Graham’s official request to chairman Wilson, weeks ago (on behalf of himself and Councillors Barker, Beaven and Belford), for various pieces of financial information regarding the dam. To date, no reply … no information … not even a polite rejection of the request.

The requests just seem to disappear into a silent black void. Moreover, as Councillor Barker often comments, then there’s what we don’t know, and therefore cannot ask about!

This doesn’t seem to concern HBRIC directors, just as it doesn’t concern the five Councillors who appear to have no probing questions about the viability of the dam scheme.

However, the business people I talk to in the community are quite alarmed. They (like the HBRIC directors) serve or have served as corporate directors and tend to project that sector’s sense of “Who’s in charge?” into the governmental realm. In their world, a director has an absolute right to any information they request of management. And indeed directors are legally culpable if things go awry and they haven’t been diligent in seeking and acting upon the relevant information.

Applying that principle to the Council scenario, they see Councillors as akin to directors … with a right and duty to pursue and receive relevant information for their decision-making. And they find it incredible that ‘management’ denies such information to Councillors.

But folks, that’s the way it goes in the regime of Pearce, Newman, Wilson and Lambert.

When it comes to anything related to the dam, there’s no question who is charge. And it ain’t us ‘rank and file’ Councillors.

As former Councillor Bill Sutton writes:

“So far as I can judge from outside, HBRIC is now effectively running the Council, rather than the other way round. Yet the HBRIC members are not elected, and not directly accountable to ratepayers. Why is this travesty being allowed to continue?”

Fair question, Bill. Put it to your Napier representatives on the Regional Council.

Tom Belford

 

 

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Murky waters (11 comments)

July 20, 2014

The Ruataniwha dam prospects get steadily cloudier … and the decision-making around it ever more opaque.

Challenge to Board of Inquiry decision

Last week two conservation organisations – Fish & Game and Forest & Bird – filed High Court appeals challenging the final Board of Inquiry decisions on the Tukituki water management plan (Plan Change 6) and the proposed CHB dam. The Environmental Defence Society intends to file in support of these two.

These groups argue that in modifying (some would use the term “softening”) its stance from its draft decision, largely in response to HBRC/HBRIC objections, the BOI acted improperly in view of the legislation it is charged with implementing.

At the centre of dispute is whether farmers – and the dam — would indeed be held accountable for meeting nitrogen (DIN) limits in the catchment, and thereby give effect to national water quality objectives. The BOI appeared to say ‘Yes’ in its draft decision, but ‘No’ in its final decision.

As the consent applicants for the Plan Change and dam respectively, HBRC and HBRIC will now need to respond. All other original submitters to the BOI have the same prerogative.

The ensuing judicial process could easily carry into next year.

Given the legal fluidity, not an especially inviting environment for CHB farmers to decide whether the proposed dam’s irrigation water is viable for them, or for external investors to commit funding to the dam scheme.

Investors and Water Purchasers

Speaking of investors … the Central Hawke’s Bay District Council (CHBDC) will NOT be bringing any money to the table. CHBDC voted against making a $5 million investment in the dam, responding to CHB ratepayers’ lack of appetite for the additional council borrowing that would be required.

As reported by Hawke’s Bay Today, Councillor Mark Williams said it all:

“I think I can say this council is unreservedly in favour of the dam going ahead but somewhat divided about the investment. We should not be borrowing money to invest in the dam – if it was such a good investment I would have considered it, but I have been convinced by submitters it’s not a good investment.”

In other words, wishful thinking and rally speeches are in ample supply in CHB; real cash is not.

There’s no sign that the farmer-beneficiaries of the proposed scheme are yet prepared to invest in it … or buy water from it.

We keep waiting on Mayor Peter Butler, owning land in the dam footprint, to table his signed Water User Agreement.

Water User Agreements (WUAs)

As for WUAs, these would supply the absolutely required revenue underpinning for the nearly $300 million financial edifice proposed by HBRIC. A WUA commits the farmer to purchasing dam water each year, whether needed or not, for 35 years. Those payments provide virtually the entire cash flow on which the financial viability of the dam depends.

However, there are none yet signed. And as indicated above, legal uncertainty about the environmental regime to be required will further deter sign-ups.

And just as important, uncertainty exists regarding just how “unconditional” or escape-proof the WUAs are.

Despite repeated requests, Regional Councillors have never been shown the boilerplate WUA by HBRIC.

Nor have we received a legal briefing on the WUA terms and how well those terms protect the HBRC from loss of revenue as years go by, and farmers reassess their water needs and/or their willingness to abide by potentially more demanding Farm Environmental Management Plans. Unbelievably, we recently learned that our legal counsel had never reviewed the WUA … because staff had never requested it. We’re still awaiting that review.

Truly unconditional WUAs – accounting for at least 40 million cubic metres of purchased water – are essential to the scheme, but lack of transparency around these is just the tip of the iceberg.

It gets worse

Councillors Graham, Barker, Beaven and myself have officially requested much additional financial information about the construction and financing of the dam – all ignored to date. Regional Council Chairman Fenton Wilson, our official channel to HBRIC, admonishes us for wanting to get too deep into the weeds.

For our part, we four Councillors believe the ‘devil is in the detail’ and that digging into that detail is critical to fulfilling our fiduciary role. If we were Directors of a corporate entity looking to make a $80 million investment (just counting the upfront HBRC share, more could follow), we’d be criminally derelict for not examining such detail.

The habit of refusing to inform Councillors goes well beyond failing to provide documents and financial analysis.

The most recent example of failed transparency involves HBRIC’s pre-emptive (i.e., first come, first served) consent application to take for itself all additional 15 million cubic metres of water authorized by the Board of Inquiry to be extracted from the Ruataniwha aquifer. In other words, cornering the market … pre-empting all other potential users of additional aquifer water.

This consent application was filed 17 May. Councillors only found out about it in mid-July – not from HBRIC, not from HBRC staff – but only ‘through the grapevine’.

Indeed, throughout this decision-making process, we have learned more — and in a more timely manner — from ‘sources’, than through official channels.

So much for transparency and ‘no surprises’ policies as between HBRC and HBRIC (our holding company after all), as well as between Councillors and staff.

Is this the way you want to see a $300 million investment decision made on your behalf?

Tom Belford

 

 

 

 

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