I write this fresh from a meeting of the Regional Council today, where the decision was made to seek a resource consent, through a special Board of Inquiry process, for the proposed Central Hawke’s Bay water storage scheme.

Plenty has been written in this magazine about the $600 million dam project, including by its leading advocates, so I won’t re-hash the substantive issues here.

Indeed, very few substantive issues were raised in the discussion today; most that were came from Councillor Remmerswaal, who was also the only Councillor to oppose moving the project to the resource consent application stage. Other Councillors, already having concluded that the dam is the salvation of Hawke’s Bay, basically made clear that their fingers are crossed, eagerly anticipating a sign-off from the Board of Inquiry next year.

So what happens next?

To applause from the audience that filled the Council’s meeting room, Councillor Kirton noted that HBRC had not distinguished itself by its transparency and handling of the public consultation process on these issues. He saw no evidence that the recommendations or concerns made by Tukituki Choices submitters (i.e., the majority of whom opposed the Council’s preferred course of action) had been taken aboard by HBRC staff.

He commented on the need for HBRC on a project of this importance to move from a “low trust to a high trust environment”.

Amen to that.

Exactly how that will happen is still murky, however. Because responsibility for progressing the dam resource consent application has now been handed to the Hawke’s Bay Regional Investment Company (HBRIC), which is governed equally by three Councillors and three private citizens – Andy Pearce (Chair), Jim Scotland and Sam Robinson.

What steps HBRIC will take, if any, to bring more transparency to the further process and earn greater public trust and support remains to be seen.

As HBRC staff concedes, an enormous amount of detail work must ensue, both as the resource consent application is developed and as financial aspects of the project, including key elements of the farming economics presently assumed, are more deeply probed.

These preparations must proceed in tandem, before the final consent application sees daylight and is presented to central government, and the devil is clearly in the details. However, given the record to date, ratepayers cannot be very reassured that input from informed skeptical parties will be sought or welcome.

Many in the community will be looking for signals from HBRIC’s leadership that they will run a transparent process and seek information from independent parties as they prepare their consent application and formulate financial plans.

Tom Belford

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  1. There were a number of issues highlighted yesterday that deserve comment.

    1. The inconsistencies and contradictions. Item 10 – the responses to the logically inconsistent propaganda document called Tukituki Choices – put forward that the priorities for the management of the Tukituki were a. improving summer flows, b. reducing P, and c. manage N toxicity effects. With Item 11, the CEO presented the Ruataniwha dam proposal by first referring to the drought of 2007-2009,and water allocation issues. So which is it? The dam will in all probability lead to higher N & P soured from energy-intensive ariculture. The HBRC LTP specifically acknowledges that. From which we can take that there realy isn’t a concern for N & P. And I suspect also that the summer flow ‘purpose’ is yet another rationalisation for the dam. Either that, or some desire for super trout, as one councilor pointed out.

    The contradiction in the stated purposes presented for the two papers indicates a lack of clarity about values and purpose. This supports the view that the dam is not a ‘means’ to a set of agreed ends, certainly not environmental ends. The dam, rather, IS the end, and it is then rationalised through the best attempts at selective reasoning and other methods of PR (to both the public and the councillors – the Choices document being a classic example) from the dam *forward*, rather than goals (ends) *back* to policies (means). This failure of policy-making and strategic process has been consistently raised by those questioning the dam.

    2. Red Herrings. The issue of the recent extended drought was one of those rationalisations. This gave some councillors the opportunity to deliver speeches to a captive audience and media perhaps on the look out for a bon mot to put in a headline, on the terrors of drought and the suffering etc. The implication throughout was that the dam would somehow ‘save us’ from future horrors. No one explained how. Nor did anyone point out that the droughts of 2007-2009 had by far their greatest impact within summer-dry hill country areas. The dam will do nothing for those areas, however many crocodile tears are shed. The drought issue as it relates to the dam justification smacks of little more than knowing distortion to the gullible for the purpose of rationaising a revious desire.

    There is an irony in this, in that previous efforts to build drought resilient capacity within our hill country systems is now less emphasised by council approaches. Such approaches involve dealing in relatively complex social and biophysical spaces, so are not easy to measure. Plenty of platitudes of course, but councils do what is mechanical and measurable (measurable riparian presented as a panacea is yet another example, while developing landscape resilience to flood and drought is too complex to easily draw graphs), far more than they do what is necessary within a complex socio-ecological system.

    The point is that, a dam gives the illusion of ‘doing something about drought’ while, in fact, it does nothing. Wether this is ignorant or dishonest is for the public to judge.

    3. Lack of understanding. The lack of understanding of social and biophysical approaches was evident from some comments made. One in particular related to the positive effects of holding water within farm systems (in the soil thru infltration & storage first, by reducing evapotranspiration second, and by holding water within on-farm wetlands/ponds third). The assumption seemed to be that this meant ‘losing’ water to the wider system (i.e. downsream water bodies) when what it actually creates is a functional lancscape with drought resilience, better water quality, a reduction in the ephemerality of streams, better in-tream values, more spring recharge in some contexts, more biodiversity, the reduction in the loss of valuable natural capital from the farm, more carbon, more ecosystem services, better flood mitigation, and more economic opportunities for farmers.

    The issue behind this apparent lack of understanding of why reducing run-off, particularly quickflow, from hill country systems is desirable, might be that the emphasis of the ‘agribusiness’ view of faming held by the HBRC Exec seems far more commited to the corporate farming model on the irrigated plains, than improving the economic prospects and environmental benefits to hill country farming families, who still remain the backbone of Hawkes Bay’s economy generally, and Central Hawke’s Bay’s community in particular.

    I think it is also worth noting that the councillors in the main, mean well. They want a locally-owned high value, long-local value-added processing chains with benefits in the way of high paying jobs and local spending, diverse, socially vibrant communities, and a better environment. However, there are a number of reasons why with the dam proposal as it stands, this is the opposite of the likely outcome.

    And the biggest reason why councillors and the public have not been able to ensure that that is the outcome is because the Council Exec tends to be hierarchical and authoritarian in nature, and doesn’t really undestand the benefits of a truly open consultation with people within the communities who have knowledge to give.

  2. From the ‘if it wasn’t so serious it would be funny files’ was the way in which a number of councillors confused the discussions about the Tukituki Choices report and the dam, even though Chairman Wilson had clearly stated that these issues were to be considered separately. A number of councillors commented on ‘submissions which supported the dam’ which defies belief, considering that submissions were not made on the dam, but supposedly on how the Tukituki was going to be managed in future.

  3. Typical Kirton rhetoric, playing for the gallery … but votes to carry on with an opaque process.

  4. Tom, your implacable opposition to the dam is well known, and no doubt sincere. But I find it hard to understand your silence on item 10 on the Council agenda at its last meeting. I have asked you twice by email how you would have voted on that item and, as is often the case, you just go doggo.

    You have been attacking the Regional Council unceasingly for its alleged mismanagement of the river (“It stinks and needs fix’n”.) You’ve even taken on the position of representing the lower TT stakeholders on the RC Stakeholders group. (A responsibility, it should be noted, that seems entirely obscure to lower river irrigators. Wasn’t your election slogan “Speaking up for you!”? Believe me Tom, if your business viability and very livelihood depends on the expectation of continued access to water you are definitely a stakeholder.) Item 10 was the implementation of the “Tukituki Choices” without the dam issue (covered in Item 11) and dedicated to improving the river. The dam is not a given, and in any case, if eventuates, is years away.) This is the most comprehensive plan dedicated to a river improvement since the Council was formed. (I paste the draft minute below for readers to draw their own conclusions.) I can’t see how anyone who is committed to improving the river could vote against it, although one did. So would you have voted ‘yes’ or ‘no’?
    Ewan Mac

    That Council:
    1. Agrees that the decisions to be made are not significant under the criteria contained in Council’s adopted policy on significance and that Council can exercise its discretion under Sections 79(1)(a) and 82(3) of the Local Government Act 2002 and make decisions on this issue without conferring directly with the community and persons likely to be affected by or to have an interest in the decision due to the nature and significance of the issue to be considered and decided.
    2. Receives the report on Tukituki Choices – Responses.
    3. Acknowledges the effort that the 163 organisations and individuals have made in taking the time to read the Tukituki Choices document and supporting reports, attend public meetings and to prepare responses for Council’s consideration.
    4. Considers the responses as part of the information to be taken into account for the decisions on the Tukituki Plan Change and the Ruataniwha Water Storage Project.
    5. Having considered the responses, endorses the following key approaches for the development of the Tukituki plan change:
    5.1. Setting water allocation limits as generally outlined in the Tukituki choices discussion document.
    5.2. Setting minimum flow limits based on 90% habitat protection for longfin eel for Waipawa River at SH 2 and Tukituki at Tapairu Rd, transitioning from current over a 3-5 year period.
    5.3. Setting minimum flows for Tukituki at Red Bridge based on 90% habitat protection for trout, transitioning from current over a ten year period.
    5.4. Allowing applications to be lodged to take water for community irrigation schemes over and above the core allocation limits.
    5.5. Recognising phosphorus as the limiting nutrient in the main stem of the river system and setting in stream phosphorus targets as a means of reducing periphyton growth.
    5.6. Recognises that managing nitrogen for controlling periphyton would at best deliver marginal additional environmental benefit compared to those resulting from a reduction in phosphorus and would require such a large reduction in existing nitrogen leaching levels and that it would have an attendant unacceptable level of economic impact on the landowners, and the district. The position therefore of both Council staff and external science advisors is that management of nitrogen to levels required to reduce periphyton is not the most environmentally or economically effective way of reducing periphyton growth and the focus should be on controlling phosphorus.
    5.7. Managing nitrogen for nitrate toxicity based on a 95% ANZECC protection threshold for zone 1, and the 90% ANZECC protection threshold for zones 2, 3 and 5. The 90% species protection level corresponds to a very low risk of a minor effect on trout and a negligible risk of insignificant effect on native fish and invertebrate species and is thus considered environmentally conservative.
    5.8. Managing nitrogen and phosphorus at current in-stream nitrate levels for Zone 4.
    5.9. Setting other water quality limits to maintain the life supporting capacity of freshwater bodies and associated ecosystems.
    Councillor Kirton moved an amendment, seconded by Councillor Remmerswaal, that being the addition of:
    5.10 Review the land management policies and practices and regulatory approaches over riparian margins in the Tukituki catchment.
    von Dadelszen/Dick
    For: Dick, McGregor, Scott, Gilbertson, Rose, von Dadelszen, Kirton, Wilson
    Against: Remmerswaal

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