Bullying from the Dodgy Council is the real reason the Dodgy Socialist dam is poked

Yesterday we highlighted how Maori had won in the Environment Court over the Ruataniwha dam project and the damage it was going to cause to aquifers and to the Tukituki river.

Some commenters attacked Maori for interfering in the process, but the reality is if the dam project and the council officers pushing has dialled back their wonky thinking and halted their bullying to force it through then there might not have been the need for all those court cases which the council has lost.

When you don’t listen to to people and just ram things through then their only real recourse is the courts.

As someone with background in environmental decision-making, I have followed the Ruataniwha Dam process with interest and, at times, disbelief.

Some of the decisions made by a few of our elected representatives and the management of Hawke’s Bay Regional Investment Company (HBRIC) have been truly shocking, and I am increasingly concerned that the way this project is being managed will poison the waters of future debates about environmental management, and may end up costing Hawke’s Bay dearly.

It already is.

Perhaps the most startling example of poor decision-making was the resolution passed by some councillors on February 24 that Hawke’s Bay Regional Council (HBRC) signing up “in principle” to buy approximately $40 million worth of water (the value seems to vary) from its own investment company was not “significant” and therefore did not warrant public consultation.

What makes this decision even more shocking is that only a few weeks prior, those same councillors had decided that spending up to $2 million on deep bore drilling to investigate the Heretaunga aquifer was significant.

In the end, all these councillors achieved by trying to push this resolution through was to waste an extra few weeks dealing with the public outcry before backing down and accepting that there did need to be public consultation.

The arrogance of the council is unbelievable.

Another example of poor decision-making and a lack of consultation is the “land swap” deal with DOC which has resulted in the current legal action taken by Forest and Bird.

It is now more than five years since the proposed dam site was identified, and yet it was only last year that HBRIC and DOC announced they had agreed to a land swap.

Other stakeholders did not find out about the deal until it was announced in the media. HBRIC argue that Forest and Bird are simply trying to stall the process by appealing to the High Court and Court of Appeal.

Did they really believe that deregistering conservation land, which may set a worrying precedent for other protected areas in New Zealand, would pass without challenge? And why weren’t Forest and Bird, as well as the public, consulted before the deal was announced?

The Council has frozen out stakeholder groups, literally keeping them in the dark and feeding them on bullshit. So no surprises that they go off to court…and win when the council’s excesses are proven.

Add to this list of poor decisions constantly shifting deadlines as financial targets are missed, allegations of GNS scientists being intimidated, critical reports being sidelined and resolutions being passed while some councillors discussed them out of chambers and the result is widespread distrust of HBRIC and those councillors who support the dam.

Not just scientists, I know of at least one journalist who has been bullied and threatened. They’ve even tried to have him sacked.

I have spoken to farmers who are signed up to the scheme and even they have voiced their frustration at the lack of communication from HBRIC.

With projects of this size it is imperative that the public and other stakeholders are kept well informed and are genuinely engaged with.

Trying to steam-roll through the decision-making process only succeeds in putting people’s backs up, creates political resistance and makes the process take even longer. Engagement and consultation are far more effective than bullying and secrecy.

However, my biggest fear of all is that, due to the dysfunctional relationships that have developed within and between HBRC, HBRIC and the numerous other stakeholders as a result of the Ruataniwha Scheme, Hawke’s Bay could end up with a situation like Canterbury’s, where the elected regional council were sacked and a government committee appointed.

The Council only have themselves to blame. Their high handed actions and activities have been astonishing. That dam is screwed and it is because of their poor communication skills.


-HB Today

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.