How dodgy is the dodgy socialist dam?

It appears it is very, very, very dodgy. Bruce Bisset explains in the HB Today:

Bizarre farce, corporate heist, democratic dysfunction – call it what you will, but despite six years in development the facts attempting to explain just how the Ruataniwha water storage scheme will work and who must shoulder the cost if it doesn’t are only just beginning to emerge.

And, as sick of the entire mess as we might be, all Hawke’s Bay ratepayers will be sicker once they understand what those facts are – because your wallets, dear readers, and your town and country assets, are on the line.

And this is the point: most people in Hawkes Bay, those who will have to pay for it, don’t know the full story.

Yes, I mean mortgaging the Port of Napier. That’s already a done deal. I have heard that it was apparently a done deal back in 2009 when, after talks with Alan Dick, the Minister of Finance had the clear impression port monies would pay for the RWSS.

And yes, I mean the extensive and expensive irrigation systems farmers taking water from the scheme will install, because the whole shebang could implode if it can’t be made – every year of its working life – to meet the environmental and other conditions stipulated by the Board of Inquiry.

Currently, despite what some might have you believe, the ability of the scheme to meet those conditions is very uncertain, in part because the regional council has not instigated the independent expert panel it was required to set up to review aspects of the scheme as it progressed – such as the (revised) dam design.

All those are pretty dodgy…but wait, there is even more dodginess.

But almost buried in this week’s council agenda was an issue that, to me, speaks to the nub of the problem: that what could be a completely taxpayer/ratepayer funded half-billion dollar scheme has no direct public governance and, if it’s set up as envisaged, never will have.

See, the council’s “arm’s-length” investment company, HBRIC, may be the driver but it won’t be the scheme’s owner. That role will be taken by another company, Ruataniwha Water Limited Partnership, the make-up of which is currently unknown.

Where it gets interesting is the RWLP will “manage” the farm environmental management plans of the properties signed up to take water. Using “approved” consultants, RWLP will help design these FEMPs to “best practice” for individual water users – plus have the delegated power to approve them. Cosy, eh?

Cosy? More like dodgy.

So although they’ll be adapting generic templates sourced from council, without duplicating the work no-one but RWLP will know whether the FEMPs approved really will meet the conditions for things like nutrient runoff – and “best practice” and the Board of Inquiry conditions aren’t necessarily the same.

If – or when – things go wrong, a minefield of insurance and cross-liability issues will define who can sue whom. But guess who will wind up paying, in the end? Yep. You, the ratepayers.

Given our “environmental watchdog” did its best to not only reject tighter rules but have existing rules relaxed to allow more pollution into the Tukituki river system, how can we trust a set-up where council abrogates its responsibilities by devolving them to a company it does not control?

How indeed? I recently OIA’d some details around risk manangement and the HBRC claimed it was all commercial in confidence. If it wasn’t commercial in confidence, they claimed a new right to withhold information…the meeting wasn’t public. I pointed out to them the law and the LGOIMA regulations but to no avail. The HBRC are sneaky, furtive and dodgy.

Regardless of what you think of the RWSS, this sleight-of-power is not what we elect councillors to do. We expect them to make informed, impartial, accountable decisions on our behalf, not bleed off their mandate so some second-hand vehicle can run a few years on borrowed Port fuel before breaking down spectacularly and leaving us with the wrecker’s bill.

I simply remind readers this scheme is backed by one CHB councillor with a pecuniary interest, three from Napier City, and one from Wairoa. They’re not taking any personal risks; those, they’re happy to pass on to you.

This dam project is dodgier than a week-old piece of raw chicken left on the bench.


– Bruce Bisset, 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.