Last Thursday, you might have missed businessman Colin Crombie’s ‘Talking Point’ column in HB Today calling for a “time out” in the process speeding the Central Hawke’s Bay dam forward.

After reciting a history of delayed, incomplete and contested environmental and economic information on the proposal, he concluded:

“Instead of genuine consultation, the Regional Council has rushed to meet an arbitrary schedule that belies the environmental and financial intricacies of a projected $600 million scheme … the biggest infrastructure investment our region has ever contemplated.

Perhaps the proposed scheme might ultimately meet objectives that all parties could endorse. However, today, with all the uncertainties that persist, no reasonable person in Hawke’s Bay can make that judgment.”

The Regional Council is speeding towards a “call-in” application that would put the matter in the hands of the Environment Minister and a Government-appointed Board of Inquiry.

On behalf of Friends of the Tukituki, Colin has called upon the Environment Minister to “communicate to the HB Regional Council her expectation that, prior to entertaining a ‘call-in’ application, a proper consultation process must be conducted whereby, with all information on the table, the public can assess the full implications of this project, and its desirability as an investment priority for our region.”

In other words, the project should be fully consulted here in Hawke’s Bay, now that more complete information is available, and earn a public mandate from our region’s ratepayers before it is considered ripe for Wellington. Colin’s column indicates what that consultation should include:

  • Public meetings where pros and cons are presented, not simply the Regional Council’s superficial PowerPoint shows;
  • A public hearing conducted by the Regional Council, again with all parties welcome to present (and with Ministry for the Environment observers);
  • Once the arguments have been placed on the table, an authentic and objective random survey of Hawke’s Bay residents.

Another group, Transparent Hawke’s Bay (THB), of which I am a member, endorses Colin’s position and is taking the matter further.

We have engaged Wellington law firm Chen Palmer to prepare our case, initially to to the Environment Minister, calling for a pause in the process. In our media release, THB spokesperson Pauline Elliott says:

“We will first take our case directly to the Environment Minister, arguing that the people of Hawke’s Bay deserve, but have been denied, a genuine opportunity to consult on whether or not the proposal stacks up as a sound investment for this region. Only when there is independent evidence supporting the integrity of assumptions made, and a vote of confidence from the people of Hawke’s Bay, should the matter be taken up by the EPA. Transparent Hawke’s Bay will pursue all available steps to achieve this end.

We are talking about the biggest investment undertaken in Hawke’s Bay; the highest debt level of any Regional Council; and the biggest water storage project in New Zealand.  The people and ratepayers of Hawke’s Bay have a right to expect confidence in the actions and investments of our Regional Council, and the right to a transparent and accountable process.”

We have compiled a 12-page chronology of what the Regional Council has done — or more to the point, not done — to confer meaningfully with ‘stakeholders’, much less the wider public, on its plans for the dam and Tukituki catchment management. Far from being a model of ‘collaboration’ as the HBRC would have Wellington believe, those of us who, like Colin Crombie, have seen the process up close, know better. And we will be heard.*

Unfortunately, fighting for transparency is costly. Transparent Hawke’s Bay will need contributions from the public to advance its case. In the days ahead, we’ll keep you informed and explain how you can help.

Meantime, you can help immensely by emailing your concerns about the dam, Tukituki water quality, and the Council’s decision-making process directly to Pauline Elliott at pauline.elliott@clear.net.nz. She will collate all messages so they can be included in our brief to the Environment Minister.

Please don’t stand by. This issue is too huge in its implications for Hawke’s Bay … implications for our environment, for sustainable farming, for who owns our region’s water and land, and for our risk and exposure as ratepayers.

Tom Belford

*In case you missed, here is the coverage of Hawke’s Bay Today and the Dominion Post on the concerns of Transparent Hawke’s Bay.

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5 Comments

  1. All this dam process illustrates very clearly is the current system of electing so called representatives is very ineffective.
    Think of all the time, effort and money that is expended today, by many varied groups, to try and reign in government, both at local and national level.
    The system is broke.

  2. It’s a real blow for democracy that a group of ratepayers has to legally take on the Regional Council for an independent review of this $600m project and have the many concerns raised in public submissions addressed.

    It’s not too late to get your ratepayers on board HBRC, a public meeting and open informed discussion would be a great place to start.

    This constant vigilance is exhausting and expensive!

  3. I see where a Maori studies teacher, Mr Maaka at EIT, seriously believes the HBRC’s $600 million (ratepayer funded) Ruataniwha dam will be good for Maori. Well, whatever Mr Maaka was on that caused him come to that conclusion … I want some! Proof of the pudding — Is Mr Maaka or any of his believers prepared to put up any of their own money. I doubt it!

  4. Can someone please tell me who is paying for this project?? is it soley a CHBDC project, or is it a liability to all in rate payers in HB?? we have been off shore for a while.
    The far north wastewater project rings loudly in my ears, and we all know what a disaster that was, by an incompetant Elected Council.
    We were contemplating buying a house in CHB, but have been advised to stay well away from CHB.

    Cheers & Thanks.

  5. Good question Alan!
    No one is quite sure yet exactly how it will be financed. Our Hawke’s Bay Regional Council and its Investment Company are driving the project (not CHB), but no information yet on financing structures or who will end up owning it. Looking for investors, but not quite sure yet who these might be. Not sure yet, either, how many farmers might sign up to the scheme, or exactly how much the water will cost, or whether there will be any impact on our rates.
    So – still lots of ‘unknowns’. Watch this space?

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