Rugby icon Dan Carter stunned a Waipukurau audience last week when he appeared at a Regional Council
rally ‘consultation session’ to endorse its proposed $600 million CHB dam. “Dam Game On!” said his tee-shirt, which was soon removed.
Turns out he was flown in especially for the occasion by hopeful dam contractors Obrascon Huarte Lain (OHL) and Hawkins Infrastructure, actual underwriters of the evening. The highlight of the evening came when Dan handed out autographed Jockey shorts to each woman in the audience. Said Doris H, wife of farmer Jock H, “My husband Jock says we’d lose our shirts if we signed up for the dam scheme. But I say, the hell with shirts Jock, we’re gettin’ to the bank tomorrow morning, these Carter Jockeys close the deal for me.”
OHL is sparing no expense to curry favour with local farmers, tradesmen and decision-makers. Indeed, rumours abound that OHL has pre-bought 25,000 tickets to the next Mission Concert and is bankrolling The Rolling Stones for the performance. Tickets will be given free to farmers who sign up early for the scheme; members of the Board of Inquiry; friends, family and loyal consultants of HBRC/HBRIC; sub-contractors; compliant Maori; and, as OHL’s press release says, “others with a constructive interest in the dam”.
Says OHL’s local pitchman, Steve Livesay, “Hey we stand to make gazillions on this project, what’s a bit of lubricant to seal the deal?”
How is one to take seriously Regional Council claims that the verdict is out on the dam? On the one hand, HBRC/HBRIC take out ads in the paper telling us that any number of deal-breakers could arise that would lead to abandoning the project.
For example, not getting environmental consents from the Board of Inquiry. Actually this is code for the improbability of the Board attaching environmental protection conditions that are deemed too demanding by HBRC and farmers. Not getting consents? From a group politically-appointed by a Government that endorses irrigation, including by name the Ruataniwha project, as the salvation of NZ agriculture at every possible opportunity? Yeah right.
Or another example … the dam might turn out to be too costly once formal bids are received from OHL and its rival, Bouygues Construction. Are you kidding?
HBRC/HBRIC is presently wooing prospective farmer participants with a pitch that projects water priced at 22-25 cents per cubic metre. The primary determinant of that price is the actual cost of building the dam. The wannabe contractors are well aware of the price point needed if HBRC/HBRIC is to have any chance of selling the dam to farmers. Does anyone seriously think these Frenchmen and Spaniards came all the way to Hawke’s Bay NZ to tender a bid — e.g., one that calculates out to, say, 28 cents for the water — that would sink the project? You can bet your francs and pesos right now … no, they did not.
HBRC/HBRIC continue to be totally disingenuous (to put it politely) about their ‘open-mindedness’ regarding the project.
On the one hand, HBRC postures that many unresolved questions remain, and consequently that a decision about the dam won’t be made by the newly-elected Regional Council until nearly a year from now, after “independent” advice is given to HBRC and another round of special public consultation is undertaken. Newly elected … independent advice … special public consultation — those are the terms to remember.
But at the same time, they continue — if anything escalate — an unrelenting propaganda campaign, fueled by ratepayer dollars, to sell the dam to the public. The latest gambit, a so-called “Socio-economic Working Party” appointed by HBRC to ensure punters appreciate the vast benefits of the project (should it be built, of course). Don’t expect to find any skeptics on that committee!
And they claim to have investors all lined up. Now big investors are supposedly very diligent … so they must know a helluva lot more than we mere ratepayers do.
Moreover, the Council’s sales efforts are now hugely supplemented by hungry international contractors, who greet us with pro-dam neon signs at the Hawke’s Bay Airport, break out the beer, and make grand promises that should make even local politicians blush.
I expect the ribbon-cutting to be any day now. Where’s my invitation?