Dodgy Dam business case in disarray

The dodgy socialist dam business case is in disarray after the HBRC decided to shelve plans to buy their own water…for now.

Last Thursday, five members of the Regional Council shelved — at least for now — the proposal for ratepayers to purchase $36.9 million of water from the proposed Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme (RWSS).

The lack of any evidence-based case whatsoever for this purchase, plus the opposition of nearly 150 submitters (as against 9 in favour), convinced all but Councillors Debbie Hewitt, Christine Scott and Dave Pipe to effectively table the proposition. Those three persisted that the proposition was a good ‘deal’.


Some interesting considerations came to light during submissions and the ensuing debate.

First, in reviewing nearly 200 submissions on all aspects of the HBRC’s work, councillors considered numerous requests for funding, in amounts from $5,000 to $300,000. I can say without hesitation that we received far more substantiation for these requests that we did for HBRIC’s $36 million pitch! And we — not happily in many of those cases — rejected most of them. Not for their lack of merit, but to protect the ratepayer’s purse.

Second, the discussions underscored the absence of thought behind the purchase proposition. At one point in his verbal submission, Garth Eyles asked, if the proposal were approved, how water was actually to be supplied to Lake Hatuma (the one example supporters have given as to how enhanced flows might be used). The silence was deafening … no one could answer! Later, during debate, Councillor Scott offered her own cost calculations, arguing that the water purchase would ‘only’ cost $23 million … which merely underscored the argument of skeptics — the half-baked proposition is so poorly conceived there’s not even agreement on its cost to ratepayers!

Third, while HBRIC argued that additional ‘environmental flows’ were hugely important for HBRC to have in its mitigation toolkit, it turns out that these flows could not have priority over the irrigation agreements already signed with 196 or so farmers, since their contracts already promise them the higher priority use of the water. In other words, the supposedly crucial extra environmental flows would play second fiddle to irrigation. One might protest: Who gave HBRIC the authority to make that call on priorities and negotiate away the environment’s right to water?!

So the HBRC snow job that they are protecting the Tukituki while turning it toxic is exposed…farmers get priority over water not the river.

Fourth, while supporters like HBRIC and Councillor Scott represented enhanced water flows as the key to improving Tukituki water quality, the real problem to be addressed is the huge increase in nutrient load that would be generated by intensified farming made possible by the scheme … especially the predicted increase from 8,000 more hectares of dairying on light soils on the Ruataniwha plains. It is increased nutrients (and ineffective wastewater treatment by CHB sewage plants) that must be prevented … dilution is not the answer.

There have been zero arguments from HBRC on how to stop the nutrient overload when the river is already at maximum nutrient headroom because of the dopey CHB sewage schemes at Waipawa and Waipukurau.

Most disingenuous in the debate was Councillor Scott, who at one point tried to suggest that the submission of Federated Farmers counted more than the submission of any individual ratepayer, since Fed Farmers had 400 members in Hawke’s Bay. Her numbers game was, well, destroyed. It was quickly pointed out that submissions opposing the water purchase included Ngati Kahungunu, Grey Power, and Forest & Bird … all more than equal in numbers to Fed Farmers. I offered to supply some members of Fed Farmers who oppose the purchase. It was also noted that when weighing prior submissions on the dam, Councillor Scott had argued that a petition with about 1,000 signatures in opposition should be counted as one. Ah, consistency!

It is clear that Christine Scott is not only unfit for office she is also well past her use by date as a politician.

Not quite.

Given lack of support on the day, the proposition was effectively ‘left on the table’ without a vote by Chairman Wilson last Thursday. He plans to bring back to the June 29 Council meeting a proposal and timetable for how HBRC staff might develop a case for enhanced environmental flows for the Tukituki, with detail on how much water might be useful, how it would be used, its cost and financing.

So, after all these years and millions of dollars the council has no idea how to actually protect the environment from their dodgy dam, a dam that they have sold to people as protecting the environment.

You’ll recall that, as much as they try now to re-write the record, five councillors voted to force through this purchase in the first place without any public consultation at all. They seemed to feel some strange sense of urgency. The source of this urgency was HBRIC, who gave the impression that time was fleeting, negotiations were speeding along with an investor, and the ‘deal’ for this water might disappear (at least in this supposedly attractive form). However it has since turned out that no decision is needed on the matter before mid-December.

With urgency gone, the fate of the $36 million purchase (or is it $23 million, or some other cost yet to be determined?) will twist in the wind for a few more months as proponents attempt to get a case together.

I wonder if they have briefed ACC on this development now that rumours are circulating that ACC is going to tip $100 million into this dodgy dam deal. Their fund mangers are recognised as perhaps NZs best and brighest yet the rumours persist that they can’t see the wood for the trees and have bought the HBRC snow job.


– Bay Buzz

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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.