Coun­cil boss does about-face on dam


Lind­say McKen­zie has changed his tune over the pro­posed Waimea dam.

‘‘From my per­sonal per­spec­tive, I started out as a cynic,’’ the Tas­man District Coun­cil chief ex­ec­u­tive told more than 50 peo­ple at a pub­lic meet­ing in Ma­pua on Mon­day evening.

‘‘As a re­sult of work that [engi­neer­ing ser­vices man­ager] Richard Kirby did when he ar­rived ... es­pe­cially fo­cus­ing on the al­ter­na­tives, I be­came an ad­vo­cate.’’

The coun­cil boss, who has re­signed from the top TDC job and is due to fin­ish in May, said the chal­lenge of con­struct­ing the dam at the pro­posed site in the Lee Val­ley had not been un­der­es­ti­mated.

‘‘I ac­cept that this is a high-risk in­vest­ment – dam con­struc­tion in­her­ently is – I ac­knowl­edge that,’’ he said.

Dam build­ing was also not an ev­ery­day ac­tiv­ity.

‘‘Hav­ing ac­knowl­edged the risk, though, you have to set that along­side the risk of do­ing noth­ing,’’ McKen­zie said. ‘‘You have to set that along­side the cer­tainty that nine years out of 10, un­less there is a dam, there will be con­straints on the use of wa­ter by house­holds and busi­nesses.’’

McKen­zie, Kirby and coun­cil wa­ter sci­en­tist Joseph Thomas joined mayor Richard Kempthorne, deputy mayor Tim King and Moutere-Waimea Ward coun­cil­lor Anne Tur­ley at the front of the room for a short pre­sen­ta­tion fol­lowed by a ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion on the dam project at the start of a Ma­pua and Dis­tricts Com­mu­nity As­so­ci­a­tion meet­ing. Crs Dean McNa­mara and David Ogilvie also at­tended.

The coun­cil and Waimea Ir­ri­ga­tors Ltd are pro­posed joint-ven­ture part­ners in the $82.5 mil­lion dam project, which is tipped to be funded by a mix of ratepayer, ir­ri­ga­tor and Crown fund­ing. A coun­cil con­sul­ta­tion doc­u­ment on gov­er­nance and fund­ing op­tions for the project is open for pub­lic sub­mis­sions.

Kempthorne said a ten­der price for the dam con­struc­tion was ex­pected in March and it had to be in line with the $50m es­ti­mate ‘‘or close to it’’.

McKen­zie said if the con­struc­tion cost price came in too high ‘‘we might not have a fund­able project’’.

The dam project is con­tro­ver­sial, a point re­in­forced by as­so­ci­a­tion chair­woman Elena Mered­ith.

‘‘You can be sure there is not a con­sen­sus view­point in this room,’’ she said. ‘‘Please recog­nise that there is a di­verse con­tin­uum of views ... and while we all know that peo­ple who dis­agree with us are ob­vi­ously wrong, it’s still a good op­por­tu­nity to make sure that we hear that there are a range of views here.’’

Mered­ith en­cour­aged the at­ten­dees to out­line their thoughts about the project in a sub­mis­sion.

Kempthorne said the pro­posed dam was about a se­cure wa­ter sup­ply for ur­ban ar­eas and ir­ri­ga­tion over 100 years along with im­prov­ing the en­vi­ron­ment of the Waimea River.

Nel­son MP Dr Nick Smith said it was ‘‘hellishly hard’’ for com­mu­ni­ties to build big in­fra­struc­ture.

As a mem­ber of the pre­vi­ous Na­tional Govern­ment, Smith helped se­cure cen­tral Govern­ment fund­ing pledges of about $40m for the dam project in the form of a grant and con­ces­sion­ary loans.

‘‘If this project is re­jected and we try and do some­thing dif­fer­ent, is it not highly un­likely we’re go­ing to get $40m out of cen­tral govern­ment,’’ he said.

Kempthorne said the new Govern­ment had in­di­cated it would hon­our pre­vi­ous fund­ing com­mit­ments but had also said it was not ex­pect­ing to sup­port fu­ture ir­ri­ga­tion projects.

‘‘So if this one doesn’t go ahead, the like­li­hood is that all of that con­ces­sion­ary fund­ing could be lost,’’ the mayor told the gath­er­ing.

Lind­say McKen­zie speaks at Ma­pua.

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