Fascinating collection of misleading headlines in HB Today this past week. Clearly the headline writers working for HBT owner APN in Auckland, Sydney, Shanghai — or wherever — don’t actually read or understand the content they’re labeling!

Examples …

On Tuesday:

Fracking should not be banned says PCE
That’s an accurate headline … but only to a point, especially for a Hawke’s Bay readership. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment also, in addition to stressing the necessity for a far more rigorous regulatory framework, yet to be devised, asked some absolutely critical questions specifically about fracking in our region. From the report:

“With regard to fracking shale on the east coast of the North Island, the following are some of the questions that should be asked – and indeed answered.

  • Given that the area is particularly seismically active, what are the implications
    for well integrity and the injection of wastewater?
  • Has the folding and faulting of the rock layers meant that contamination of
    groundwater is more likely?
  • Will the drilling be vertical or horizontal, as a horizontal well has a much
    greater likelihood of intercepting vertical faults?
  • What does the depth of the shale layers mean for proximity to groundwater
    and aquifers?
  • Given that the east coast is much drier (and frequently suffers from summer
    drought), where will the water required for fracking be taken from?
  • How well would the main waste disposal methods used in Taranaki
    (landfarming and wastewater injection) translate to the east?”

But not to worry. On Thursday, HBT ran this story: Bay MPs give assurances on fracking. MPs Foss and Tremain reassure us they have everything under control. They’ve talked to the Energy Minister. They won’t allow anything harmful to occur. You might want to save that article!

On Wednesday:

Hawke’s Bay top spots steal the show
(Article not online, but here’s the full list)
This was an article noting that of 101 “Must-do’s for Kiwis” (as voted by more than 280,000 Kiwis via AA Travel), only two attractions in Hawke’s Bay made the list, near the bottom — the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk, at #92, and the Pacific Coast Highway, at #87.

The Lake Walk I understand. Yet, despite continuous complaints (including from dust-plagued residents along unsealed portions of the road) the HBRC has done nothing to provide a decent road to the attraction. Just never seems to make the priority list.

Hawke’s Bay Tourism director Annie Dundas regularly points out that 80% of HB visitors are fellow New Zealanders; those who belong to AA arguably are among the most frequent travelers … and they rank at least 86 other destinations as more appealing. So … “Hawke’s Bay steals the show”?!

The editor of HBT helpfully opined: We just need a bigger welcome sign … and, “We need to continually come up with innovative ways of marketing our region.” Got that, Annie?

Let me ask a question: Could it possibly be that Hawke’s Bay is a fabulous place to live, but a ho-hum place to visit?

On Thursday:

$77b export bonanza awaits Bay
That’s the potential increase in HB agricultural exports a report from ANZ predicts by 2050, if our farmers get it right. Getting it right to ANZ means “land use change, productivity gains and intensification.” There is a warning sounded: “Significant barriers will have to be overcome at every step of the supply chain, requiring substantial investment.” Hmmm … I wondering who is standing by to lend farmers — who already hold record, in many cases unsustainable, debt levels — more money? The article left no doubt that ANZ is keen!

“Fuel up the truck, we’re headed to the bank first thing Monday morning Dorothy! There’s a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow.”

Also on Thursday:

Next stage focuses on dam project costs
Hello? Next stage? Does this mean that when the costs are actually final and understood that the Regional Council will conduct a bona fide (as in legally sound) consultation process to see if anyone in Hawke’s Bay wants to pay for the project?

Even a sleepy supporter of the dam like Councillor Ewan McGregor has awoken, recently questioning whether any farmers in CHB are willing to pay the price. It seems that Councillor McGregor is finally hearing — although BayBuzz and others have been reporting this for months — that CHB farmers are rather balky on the matter. So he finally raised the fundamental question at last Wednesday’s HBRC meeting, after voting last month that the project was ‘feasible enough’ to proceed with.

CEO Andrew Newman’s response was interesting. I was there. As summarised by HBT: “Mr Newman said there had not been a clear opportunity to speak with potential buyers prior to the council’s decision to apply for a resource consent to build the dam. ‘We are now at that point and we can have that conversation at a higher level than the previous three years’.”

Newman’s position has shifted steadily as evidence of CHB farmers’ resistance has grown. Initially, the position was that the feasibility of the project depended on clear signals that farmers would embrace and pay the price for the scheme. When that could not be established, HBRC produced a ‘feasibility’ report saying farmer acceptance didn’t really matter, other investors will carry the load and eventually farmers will buy in (or be replaced by new farmer/landowners who will). Now Newman’s position is that HBRC shouldn’t even be having the farmer/user conversation anyway, it’s a matter to be discussed between individual farmers and their bankers and accountants.

Just one more example of shifting goal posts in the dam saga.

So, on reflection, maybe that headline is accurate after all … the next stage will focus on dam project costs and who will pay them. If we the ratepayers sit by and wait it out, perhaps somewhere along the line we’ll get an honest accounting of it all … and then the bill.

Tom Belford

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  1. Scary stuff Tom! Yes, the media spin in the few days immediately following PCE’s Interim Report was at best misleading and, at worst, irresponsible. Fueled, of course, by government (who want it, no matter what) and industry (who want to do it, no matter what). (Tremain, Foss, Heatley don’t inspire confidence – sorry!)
    What a pity it was pretty much done and dusted before people actually read the report, or listened to Dr Jan Wright’s interview on RNZ’s ‘nine to noon’ when she voiced very real concerns that need answers! In particular, her concerns (highlighted by you) have particular relevance for Hawke’s Bay/East Coast, are the issues that have been raised by ‘Don’t Frack the Bay’ for some time now..
    I listened to that interview on-line because, hey! I was at the same HBRC meeting as you!
    What an exciting, animated, few minutes we had!!! Even Chairperson Wilson was surprised at the speed of response and level of engagement on the issue of local government reform! Councillor seats might be under threat and, worse, could Council reasonably be expected to function under such a threat??
    However, it was all over in a few minutes and good on you Councillors who recognized that the sky probably wont fall in; and you are probably not the exclusive “chosen few” that some perceive.
    I attended that meeting because I wanted to see and hear the paper, promised at the last meeting, on the role and structure of HBRIC. (To date, it has all been a bit hazy)
    I was rather gobsmacked to learn that this discussion was earmarked for “public excluded” but, after emails (some unhelpful) and a conversation with Cr Kirton, was pleased to find it on the public agenda – where it belonged!
    In the end, none of it was that helpful……. Noted that all councillors are required to use microphones but, apparently, the CE is not! His jargonese is, at the best of times, difficult to interpret. With no line of sight (councillors heads in the way) and no microphone, I could only catch snaps of what he was saying.
    Did he really say, “well, now we can go out and talk to landowners and gauge the level of interest/uptake”?
    Did he say “we need to talk to possible investors”?
    Am I to understand that none of this was a pre-requisite before developing a multi-million dollar water storage project?
    And – exactly, what is the “proposed role adjustments of the Executive Leadership??? both in HBRC and HBRIC Ltd??

    Methinks CE Andrew Newman spends far too much time in Wellington and has lost touch with what his role in the Regional Council actually is! I am sure he aspires to greatness, but could he please do that on his own credentials and not on the back of Hawke’s Bay ratepayers??!!

  2. I think that the dam will end up too expensive for the current CHB farmers. But Mr Newman doesn’t care. He’ll happily see those family farms go down the drain and be replaced by big business. Hello Chinese investors! Be worried, CHB farmers. Be very worried!

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