Hope for dam de­spite write-off - He­witt

The Napier Mail - - FRONT PAGE - SI­MON HENDERY

Hawke’s Bay Re­gional Coun­cil’s de­ci­sion to write-off $14 mil­lion spent try­ing to de­velop an ir­ri­ga­tion scheme for the Ru­atani­wha Plains doesn’t mean the project won’t be built even­tu­ally, one coun­cil­lor says.

The coun­cil voted on Wed­nes­day to take its au­di­tors’ ad­vice and write off the in­vest­ment made by its com­mer­cial arm, Hawke’s Bay Re­gional In­vest­ment Com­pany, try­ing to es­tab­lish the scheme in Cen­tral Hawke’s Bay.

While there is gen­eral agree­ment the drought-prone Ru­atani­wha catch­ment needs a water stor­age so­lu­tion, de­bate has raged for sev­eral years over the coun­cil’s back­ing for a pro­posal to build a dam and cre­ate a mas­sive reser­voir in the foothills of the Ruahine Range.

The fi­nal blow to the project was a July Supreme Court de­ci­sion rul­ing a land-swap re­quired to free up Ruahine con­ser­va­tion es­tate land re­quired for the scheme had not been le­gal.

Speak­ing at Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing, coun­cil­lor Deb­bie He­witt, who rep­re­sents Cen­tral Hawke’s Bay where sup­port for the project was strong­est, said the write-off de­ci­sion was in­evitable given the ‘‘tide had been turn­ing for some time’’ against the scheme.

The de­ci­sion would mean the loss of ‘‘des­per­ately’’ needed em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, she said.

‘‘It’s a sad day in terms of where we’ve landed with this project. I do be­lieve it will go ahead in one ve­hi­cle or an­other.’’

He­witt said with the Gov­ern­ment sup­port­ing ir­ri­ga­tion schemes and an in­sti­tu­tional in­vestor hav­ing done sig­nif­i­cant due dili­gence on the project she be­lieved it would even­tu­ally progress, ‘‘and it’s go­ing to be prob­a­bly far bet­ter off with­out coun­cil as a cor­ner­stone in­vestor in terms of get­ting on and the project be­ing a suc­cess’’.

Coun­cil­lor Paul Bai­ley said the demise of the scheme was a ‘‘salu­tary les­son’’ for the coun­cil in terms of its fu­ture in­vest­ments.

He said the po­ten­tial is­sue of the DOC land-swap first emerged in 2013 when only $5m had been in­vested in the project, and the coun­cil made ‘‘an ap­palling de­ci­sion’’ back then to pro­ceed when there re­mained un­cer­tainty about the avail­abil­ity to the land.

‘‘I cer­tainly wouldn’t go and build a house with­out mak­ing sure I owned the land I was go­ing to build the thing on, and that’s ex­actly what’s hap­pened here.’’

Green Party water spokes­woman Eu­ge­nie Sage wel­comed last Wed­nes­day’s devel­op­ments, say­ing the dam would have have en­cour­aged more in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion of farm­ing in Cen­tral Hawke’s Bay.

She said re­gional coun­cils should not be in­volved in ir­ri­ga­tion schemes be­cause pro­mot­ing them ‘‘un­der­mines their role as in­de­pen­dent reg­u­la­tors of land and water use and cre­ates a con- flict of in­ter­est’’.

How­ever, Fed­er­ated Farm­ers’ Hawke’s Bay pro­vin­cial pres­i­dent Will Fo­ley said the coun­cil’s de­ci­sion left ques­tions around the re­gion’s fu­ture water stor­age ca­pa­bil­ity.

The planned Ru­atani­wha Dam could still go ahead, says coun­cil­lor Deb­bie He­witt, who rep­re­sents Cen­tral Hawke’s Bay where sup­port for the project was strong­est.

Deb­bie He­witt

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