Buried in the Home section of the weekend Hawke’s Bay Today is the EPA’s official notification that it has accepted various resource consent applications (19 in all) pertaining to management of the Tukituki catchment and building a dam in Central Hawke’s Bay.
This announcement triggers a submission period that ends in four weeks (Friday, August 2nd), and a Board of Inquiry review of the scheme that must be completed in nine months (roughly the first week of April, 2014).
As it stands, with the nine-month review clock already ticking, we have no Board of Inquiry. Apparently the Environment Minister believes the Board won’t need a full nine months to rubber stamp this scheme.
This submission process is a farce.
The announcement itself is a page and a half of legal jargon (fulfilling its legal duty, but accomplishing nothing else), shedding no light whatsoever on the underlying issues at hand that might warrant public response. And you can be certain that HBRC/HBRIC will not do so. How much thought have you given to NSP 13/02.010: Mangaonuku Outfall Structure?
It is entirely up to citizen organisations like Fish & Game, Forest & Bird, Baywatch, Transparent Hawke’s Bay and voices like BayBuzz to deliver that information. [Try answering these 50 Questions posed by BayBuzz over a year ago.]
The announcement offers ‘Friend of Submitter’ assistance, a lawyer who can advise on how (not what) to submit. She has scheduled four briefing sessions, three of which occur after half the submission window has closed.
The EPA itself is conducting two briefing meetings on the process (again, not the substance), one on Tuesday in Waipawa and the other on Wednesday in Napier. How’s that for fair public notice?
Of course none of this process deals with economic and financial concerns about the scheme. The Board of Inquiry deals with environmental matters only, supplanting the Environment Court, which actually has deep knowledge and ample case law on the subject at hand.
So, one month to weigh in on a proposal that could determine the future environmental viability (or not) of the Tukituki catchment, to say nothing of incurring unprecedented financial risk for HB ratepayers.
Even if one were endorse the Board of Inquiry process in principle, which is questionable, this implementation of it is a joke.
Here’s what a proper consultation process might look like:
1. 60 days before official notification, with its final consent applications on the table, HBRC should have sponsored a month-long window of multiple public briefings and consultation sessions, framing the issues in some way that makes objective sense … not simply delivering a sales pitch for its scheme.
It might surprise you that HBRC has never held even one public meeting of this kind on the dam … a meeting where their proposals might be seriously probed and questioned. Never. Ever.
Instead they pitch the project privately to CHB farmers and to ‘user’ and business groups … using thousands of ratepayer dollars to do so. I have filed an Official Information Act request seeking an account of HBRC/HBRIC’s promotion spending for the scheme.
2. 30 days before official notification, EPA would conduct its public briefing sessions on the submission and Board of Inquiry process. And its ‘Friend of Submitter’ assistance would be available throughout that period.
Note that even now there is plenty of missing information about the process … Who will serve on the Board of Inquiry? What will its review process consist of? Will there be hearings with presenters/submitters and cross-examination of those individuals? Is the process iterative — e.g., might the Board raise further questions or test its own inclinations in a manner that invites further submitter response?
3. Only after that 30 days, and only after members of the Board of Inquiry have been appointed, would the official notification occur, triggering a lengthier submission window … at least 30 working days.
That manner of consultation at least begins to look authentic and legitimate. It’s what you’d get if I were calling the shots.
Instead, we’ve been handed a joke of a timeline and process … but hardly a surprise from this set of Regional Councillors or a Government hellbent on approving irrigation schemes before the next election.