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Dam Dead!

BayBuzz08 July 2017

The new Jul/Aug BayBuzz magazine features this cartoon …

Last Thursday, one of the most critical cards collapsed.

The Supreme Court disallowed the land swap – conceived by HBRIC and DoC two years ago – that downgraded protected conservation land so it could be traded and flooded for the proposed CHB dam.

Congratulations to Forest & Bird for carrying the successful legal challenge to the swap all the way through the Supreme Court. And while the Court’s decision drives a stake through the heart of the CHB dam, it also has importance for all of NZ, signaling that similar efforts by DoC elsewhere in NZ to arbitrarily downgrade our most protected and valuable conservation lands will not be tolerated.

So what does the Government do when slapped down by the Supreme Court? Damn the decision and vow to change the law!

Just one more reminder of how inimical to the environmental integrity of Aotearoa the National Government is.

Whatever change the Government pursues, it will be irrelevant to the fate of the dam at this point. The scales have been tipped irreversibly against the project proceeding — a decision that rests squarely in the hands of nine elected Regional Councillors, not the Government.

I asked the Tukituki MP candidates to comment on the decision and the response of the National Government (their extended comments are included at the end).

National’s Lawrence Yule said: “My understanding is the Government may look to change the law around land swaps through a normal Parliamentry process. The Minister has confirmed any change would not be backdated so the Supreme Court decision stands in the Ruataniwha Scheme …The decision provides a catalyst to rethink how water storage projects are developed … The promotion of water storage schemes to support the Ruataniwha and Heretaunga Plains is a high long term priority for myself as a future MP.”

Labour’s Anna Lorck commented: “Any attempt to keep dragging the dam project out further will incite even more division in our region and led to greater public backlash. It’s gone on long enough. The decision of New Zealand’s highest court must be respected. I think most people who were open to the dam, if it stack up economically and environmentally to the conditions set, will accept that this as the end to the project.”

And the Greens’ Chris Perley: “It is vital to uphold the integrity of the conservation estate from piecemeal attacks by commercial interests … The Supreme Court decision ought to be the death knell for the dam. Now we have to start rethinking how we manage our land, away from the 1950s big dam approaches that have done so much damage around the world.”

The Supreme Court’s heavy blow to the Ruataniwha dam reminds us once again how shoddy the entire decision-making process around this project has been over the past six years.

However this legal muck-up is only one of several reasons the project should be taken off life support.

The scheme poses irreversible environmental risk to the Tuki catchment. This project is all about encouraging intensified farming in a catchment that is already degraded and — indisputably — in serious need of improvement. Yet we have no evidence that mitigation plans can be put in place and enforced that will improve water quality to the required levels. Until we see proof of performance, intensified farming must be put on hold. This must be the true meaning of ‘River First’, the latest mantra of the new crew at HBRIC.

Financially, the investor terms as they stand are a rip-off to HB ratepayers. Under the present terms, while the investor would be guaranteed a healthy return from day one if the project proceeded, HBRIC would need to borrow substantial funds (up to $80 million) for up to 22 years in order to pay the Regional Council (i.e., the ratepayers) any return at all. The peer reviewer of this arrangement called it “unorthodox”. What do you call it?

And finally, Hawke’s Bay ratepayers should not be fronting $80 million (and all NZ taxpayers an additional $180 million, given that further amount is to be invested by government entities) to provide a financial benefit primarily to 200 farmers in CHB. Everywhere else in NZ, farmers using the water pay for their irrigation schemes.

It’s time to move on. Hawke’s Bay has too many other pressing needs that have been neglected in the six years the RWSS has soaked up $20 million in cash and uncounted thousands of hours of staff time and focus.

No wonder the new Regional Council has had to ask ratepayers for extra funding to undertake ‘core business’ environmental tasks that should have been underway all that time.

In due course the Council can more prudently invest the remaining unspent $60 million still allocated to the dam to other projects with far greater environmental and economic benefit to the region. That is the challenge we will turn to in preparing our next Long Term Plan, which will surface in early 2018.

Do you agree it’s time to pull the plug on the dam … or not? Let your councillors know!

Tom Belford

Tukituki MP candidates respond to the Supreme Court decision

Anna Lorck – Labour

Any attempt to keep dragging the dam project out further will incite even more division in our region and led to greater public backlash. It’s gone on long enough.

The decision of New Zealand’s highest court must be respected.

I think most people who were open to the dam, if it stack up economically and environmentally to the conditions set, will accept that this as the end to the project.

When I’m out talking in the community, people are telling me they see so many other water issues facing our region that are a priority – starting with securing fresh, safe drinking water.

We do need to make on-farm water storage more affordable and cut the huge resource consenting costs around what is now going to play a very critical role in the future of our primary sector.  I am fully committed to working closely with primary industry to achieve this.

We must also ensure there is a plan to help re-invigorate Central Hawke’s Bay and support local industry. There is still $60 million left to invest by the HBRC into our region, that will grow the economy, protect the environment and improve the social wellbeing of our local communities – I’m excited to see what is put forward and how these will be achieved for the greater benefit of Hawke’s Bay.

Chris Perley – Greens

We welcome the Supreme Court decision. It is vital to uphold the integrity of the conservation estate from piecemeal attacks by commercial interests. Those commercial interests (and their political allies) often claim a spurious ‘compromise’ argument between the environment and the economy. What that almost always means is that we are expected yet another degradation of our environmental values to benefit some narrow commercial interest. That is dinosaur thinking.

The Supreme Court decision ought to be the death knell for the dam. Now we have to start rethinking how we manage our land, away from the 1950s big dam approaches that have done so much damage around the world. We have been industrial commodity producers for far too long. It is a third world strategy that is driving us down environmentally, socially and economically.

It is a chance for Hawke’s Bay to realise a vision for the future – producers of quality, diverse, high value, locally owned, locally-processed produce – with resilience to droughts and floods and a healthy environment that underpins both our economic success and our social wellbeing.

The current polluting and increasingly corporate approach does the exact opposite. If National follows through with its threat to change the Conservation Act legislation to force through the dam and other land swap deals, then it is effectively saying that it doesn’t give a toss for the wellbeing of those who live in Hawke’s Bay. It certainly has no vision of a high value, high wage New Zealand. They only care about large business interests and will facilitate the ‘compromise’ of local environmental and social interests to satisfy the selfish and narrow financial interests of a few.

In many ways I look forward to them trying to change the legislation coming up to the election, because I have no doubt where the public stands on such motives. National have an obligation to very clearly state their intentions before the election. Will they force a legislation change: yes, or no? 

Lawrence Yule – National

My understanding is the Government may look to change the law around land swaps through a normal Parliamentary process. The Minister has confirmed any change would not be backdated so the Supreme Court decision stands in the Ruataniwha Scheme. At the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court the decisions were by majority and not unanimous. This in itself shows the law is not necessarily clear in such swaps.

The Supreme Court decision provides a catalyst to rethink how water storage projects are developed. Water storage is fundamentally important to sustainable agriculture and horticulture on the Ruataniwha and Heretaunga Plains.

While some people have concerns about the Ruataniwha project doing nothing is not an option. Climate Change impacts over the next decades will mean water will have to be stored from winter flows and this thinking will need to include the Heretaunga Plains. Just like coastal erosion we need a long-term view on how we store water to support our economy and jobs and will likely involve off river storage.

We know that horticulture is on an exponential growth path on the Heretaunga Plains and will provide thousands of new full time jobs in the next few years. Over the last 20 years horticultural use of water has steadily increased despite massive gains in efficiency.

The promotion of water storage schemes to support the Ruataniwha and Heretaunga Plains is a high priority long-term priority for myself as a future MP.

BayBuzz08 July 2017

  • M Scofield

    Not that I ever fully supported the Dam especially that it did not seem to stack up financially, I wonder what the Regional Council are going to do about ensuring water for all especially over summer. I live in Meeanee and last summer water pressure in our Well dropped to the point we had to install a pump. Obviously other areas were worse off than us. Mr Belford Can I get a rebate on rates to cover my costs due to poor water management by our council? I do not support the 10% rate increase to sort out river issues now that you say there is $60 M left in the Dam fund I am sure this will go along way to helping restore our rivers. Councils need to work within their budgets just like households have to do.

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