Yesterday the Tukituki Board of Inquiry (BOI) rejected HBRC’s proposed approach to addressing the river’s water quality, and in so doing, dealt a major — perhaps fatal — body blow to HBRIC’s proposed dam.
Not a real surprise, as HBRC and its slow-learning legal and planning advisers were simply trying to end-run a position the BOI was already committed to (and a position affirmed by the High Court).
But there’s a huge irony here, as the BOI was originally selected as the smooth decision-making pathway that HBRIC expected would avoid the pesky Environment Court and its irksome environmental sensibilities.
Throughout the HBRC-touted ‘stakeholder’ process on the dam, chaired by pre-Councillor Hewitt and chaperoned by Councillor Scott, environmentalists were ignored. The Council viewed their mere attendance as ticking the box for consultation. Consequently the revisionist HBRC account of that process omits the fact that all the environmental participants refused to endorse the final report! I was one of those.
Was there a warning sign there?
Nonetheless, the HBRC effectively said “Get stuffed” to the environmentalists. “Fight us at the BOI.”
And now — three times by my count (twice via the BOI and once in the High Court) — the environmentalists have successfully said in return: “No, you get stuffed!”
What environmentalists don’t want stuffed (further) is the Tukituki.
So to protect the river’s ecological health they’ve insisted that farmers be required to meet responsible limits on their nitrogen leaching into the catchment. That’s what the DIN (Dissolved Inorganic Nitrogen) limit is all about.
HBRIC now must assess whether such limits will allow for the scale of farming intensification on which the economic case for the dam is predicated. When the BOI proposed the DIN limit in its initial decision, HBRIC was aghast and declared such a restriction would kill the dam. Now that the DIN limit will stand, it will be interesting indeed to see HBRIC’s fresh assessment.
Mind you, the matter is not yet fully closed.
Having stipulated yesterday that there can be no substitute for regulating DIN, the BOI still needs to hear from the parties how that regulation should be implemented. The parties involved in the matter have been given until the end of February to go through a process of tabling their recommendations, responding to each other, conferencing, and reporting back to the BOI.
Only then will the BOI decide on the final scheme.
So now two of the key conditions that the proposed dam must meet to be acceptable to the Regional Council are under severe stress: 1) will the environmental requirements be ‘workable’ as assessed by HBRIC; and b) will farmer sign-up for the proposed dam’s water (already sluggish at best) somehow revive, or will it be further deterred by tougher environmental protections?
And underlying both of those issues: will HBRC fund another three months or more of HBRIC’s paddling upstream, at $250,000+ per month?