Dam remains a moving target

The two most contentious issues before Hawke’s Bay, amalgamation and the dam, will be in the spotlight in May and June.

On the amalgamation front, the Local Government Commission is conducting hearings throughout the region, listening to individuals and organizations that have already filed written submissions.

This process is slow moving, with the real action not occurring until after the national elections. However, BayBuzz optimistically leapt ahead in our last edition and launched a straw poll for the First Mayor of Hawke’s Bay.

Tom Belford

We’ve received over 650 responses as I write, with 51% from Napier, 38% from Hastings, and 10% from CHB and Wairoa.

We first asked if folks would prefer an ‘experienced hand’ to guide us through the transition to one council, or a ‘fresh face’ dedicated to change. ‘Experienced hand’ was the overwhelming choice, favoured by 71% of respondents.

Seven ‘candidates’ were offered from amongst Hawke’s Bay’s established political leaders – Barbara Arnott, Kevin Atkinson, Rick Barker, Bill Dalton, Chris Tremain, Fenton Wilson, and Lawrence Yule.

Despite the higher ‘turnout’ from Napier, Lawrence Yule topped the response with 45% of the ‘vote’, followed by Dalton (24%), Tremain (14%) and Arnott (11%), with none of the others reaching 10%. Perhaps two points worth noting.

First, Napier-based candidates captured 49% collectively, while Hastings-based Yule plus Atkinson and Barker won 52%. Geographically, a coin toss.

Second, accepting Yule and Dalton as the ‘front-runners’, how did each do on the other’s turf? Yule got 60% of his home base Hastings vote, and 30% of the Napier vote. Dalton got 40% of his home base Napier vote, and 10% of the Hastings vote. Yule drew appreciably more ‘cross-over’ support.

At the moment, Lawrence Yule seems like the man to beat!

BayBuzz also queried about amalgamation, simply asking: Do you support the One Council approach, or would you prefer no amalgamation? Respondents favoured One Council by 55% to 40% (5% other), including 34% supporting in Napier, while 18% oppose amalgamation in Hastings.

Obviously this is not a scientific survey, as respondents were self-selected. That said, the poll was evenly promoted across the two population centres, and with 650+ respondents, it is not a bad indicator of where the more politically aroused in our population stand. History suggests that more than half of those eligible, won’t vote.

While amalgamation is on simmer; the dam, on the other hand, is on boil.

HBRIC has pressed furiously for a positive decision on the dam by 30 June from the Regional Council (now delayed until 30 September). Hence the public consultation process underway.

I, together with Councillors Barker, Beaven and Graham, have strenuously challenged this rush to judgment. When we were asked on 30 April by HBRC staff to approve the consultation process, we had seen no confirmed private investors, no money from the Crown, and no signed water purchase agreements from CHB farmers.

Moreover, we had seen no business plan from HBRIC worthy of the name; nor a probing or even final review of HBRIC’s case from our independent consultant. What we had received was our consultant’s one-hour verbal assessment of the non-plan, and a verbal presentation from HBRIC itself.

And we had received only a cursory verbal assessment of the impact of the Board of Inquiry’s (BOI) decision regarding protection of the Tukituki (and other conditions placed on the dam) on the financial viability or claimed benefits of the $600 million dam ($300 million to build; $300 million in on-farm costs to use).

So, I voted not to commence public consultation.

A terribly shonky way to conduct public business. But it follows the pattern set by the previous Regional Council, which simply lapped at the feet of senior staff.

That staff has now spent nearly $14 million in pursuit of its plans for the Tukituki and the dam (including $4 million from central government). A major chunk of this, over $4 million, was spent advocating an insufficient water quality management plan to the BOI, which thankfully rejected it, noting HBRC’s own consultants were inconsistent with their past positions.

This Regional Council is the institution that Councillors Fenton Wilson, Christine Scott & Co insist is Hawke’s Bay’s bastion of environmental defence, to be protected from amalgamation. Right!

In my opinion, we should not be consulting now on the dam scheme, which is still too much a moving target.

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  1. The dam is a problem in that it is financially suspect with the Regional Council misleading the rate payers by saying that it will not impact on rates. If they transfer $80 m from the investment portfolio to pay for the dam then we have lost the income on that money which will have to be made up – from the rates? (at least until the dam realises a dividend to its investors. Andrew Newman responded to a question from me on the investment return by looking at the floor and admitting that it didn’t look a good investment.
    I am really for better water management but would prefer a series of smaller dams and for them to be developed by the farming community. Currently the water cost is too high and in today’s climate it is unlikely that there will be any immediate dairy conversions on the basis of this dam.

  2. I cannot believe the dam has ever been intended to benefit farming development. It is more likely to have been designed to make a lot of money for relatively few during planning (raise your hand Andrew Newman) and construction and the associated financing. Not a lot stacks up about this dam. The absence of (financial) support from the supposed beneficiaries, the farmers, is total, and a deafening silence. If this is such a great idea investors would be lining up to back the scheme. So far potential investors have done the math and run for cover without committing one red cent. Councillors have no right to use public money financing such a high risk scheme. Their complicity should be a criminal offence and it is time we had a national discussion on council involvement in these things (dams, art deco buses, museums etc) We need to establish where councillors personal accountability and culpability lies. For me it is not so much about the dam but who pays for it and I certainly don’t want my money in such a high risk venture. Get public money out of this dam.

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