As you might have heard, the Regional Council recently received a marvellous offer from our holding company, HBRIC.

For a mere $43 million, we could enter a contract — a legal obligation — to buy water over 25 years from the proposed water storage scheme … the same as farmers, on a ‘use it or lose it’ basis. Not clear whether by signing the agreement our Council would be subject to the same ‘gag rule’ in the contract that forbids signers of water user agreements from challenging HBRIC on any of its stances down the road (see my previous post on the gag rule).

The carrot for this deal — as presented by HBRC staff and HBRIC — was that HBRC could use the water in various ways to improve the Tukituki ecosystem.

You might ask: “Wasn’t the dam supposed to fix the Tukituki’s environmental problems in the first place? Isn’t that why we ratepayers are already being asked to pay $80 million for an irrigation scheme that would benefit — maybe — 150 or so farmers in CHB?”

The truth of the matter is simply that HBRIC needs this extra cash commitment to help make the project fly with investors. HBRIC couldn’t give a rat’s butt what HBRC does with the water. As their presentation indicated, the Council could choose to on-sell the water instead. HBRC becomes a water speculator.

Having more stored water to help improve the Tukituki ecosystem might be a good idea. In fact, Councillors Barker, Beaven, Graham and I proposed an alternative ‘augmentation dam’ months ago, which HBRIC and our fellow Councillors rejected out of hand. But this HBRIC proposal, hatched out of financial duress and cursory at best in identifying environmental benefits, is not the way to proceed.

The environmental and financial flaws aside, the powers-that-be at the Regional Council made a massive due process error in their handling of the proposition. They declared this alternative use of $43 million of HBRC revenue — effectively increasing the ratepayer price for the dam by 50% to $123 million — was not ‘significant’ and therefore not deserving of public consultation!

Four of us — Barker, Beaven, Belford, Graham (‘The Mushrooms’ … kept in the dark and fed manure) — protested this action to the Auditor General, and we await her advice. But meanwhile, the public outrage over this ludicrous position forced HBRC to seek staff advice from Audit NZ, who responded that what was being proposed most likely amounted to an amendment to the Long Term Plan and as such would require public consultation. Their advice concluded: “Given the issues I have identified above, I would strongly recommend that the Council obtain legal advice as to whether an LTP amendment is required.”

Stay tuned on that one!

Meantime, we Mushroom Councillors have begun our series of four public forums on the dam. The first occurred last Thursday in Hastings and was attended by about 250 people. Heaps of great questions from an audience mighty skeptical about the project and desparate for sunlight.

Our next forum is in Waipawa this Thursday the 10th, 6pm, at the Municipal Theatre. We visit Wairoa on Monday the 21st and Napier on the 24th.

I’ve been especially struck in recent weeks by the feedback I’m receiving from folks in CHB opposing the dam. It finally seems to be sinking in, even in dam heartland, that this scheme might be all smoke and mirrors. Like a Donald Trump casino.

One phone message I received — from an 87-year-old woman in Waipukurau — was so articulate that I recorded it off my phone.

With her permission, here it is, about two minutes … I urge you to listen.

Her concerns are precisely why questions must continue to be asked about the project.

I appreciate her pat on the back. But here’s the bottom line … If you share her concerns, there are five Councillors who need to hear from you … now. I’ve noted them below, with their publicly listed email addresses.

Tom Belford

Alan Dick:
Debbie Hewitt:
Dave Pipe:
Christine Scott:
Fenton Wilson:

Join the Conversation


  1. hi tom

    your assertion that the dam will benefit may be 150 farmers in CHB

    is this correct?

    GDP is estimated to increase by 1.5 % as a result of building the dam and about the same per annum when it is commissioned .This will benefit more than 150 farmers surely ?

    Can you answer this question publically on the 10th please



  2. I LOVE HER!!! Spunky, educated, wise and tough… I want to be like her when I grow up! :)
    I attended the Karamu High forum Tom and found it really interesting. My husband who was sitting beside me, also found it interesting, and was getting riled up by the 2 gentlemen from HBRIC. Afterward the pointed comments flowed out of him and I wished he would have taken the platform! As a former high-powered investment banker he thinks the project is doomed UNLESS theres something bizarre driving it forward behind the scenes… in which case the “market” rules don’t NEED to make sense. All along I’ve simply HOPED that the market would direct the outcome, but as this drags on with continually shifting deadlines, I’m more and more concerned. Several people in the audience asked “what can we do”… and maybe you 4 councillors weren’t comfortable with a direct answer at the time, but seriously “what can WE do”??? The list of emails at the end of this entry… now you’re talking’! I’m also trying to convince my husband to write a piece for the NZ Herald… HBToday is hopelessly biased!…
    You’re making us proud Tom! Thanks for standing up against… god, I don’t even know what to call it!… sheer weirdness to be polite… on behalf of this great little piece of NZ earth and its caretakers! Susan

  3. I attended the meeting on Thursday, and was so impressed by the genuine concern and honesty that was given by the four councillors in regards to the proposed dam. Whereas the director for the HBRIC seemed to be unable to give any direct answers to our questions. There are so many flaws with the dam project and the process that has been undertaken that it would seem to any outsider to be totally ridiculous, ( it even seems that way to most of us affected!) and I just don’t get how it could even have gotten this far, with the deadline continually being pushed out, while certain people continue to be paid large salaries. I believe that before even thinking of a water storage system, we need to put our efforts into cleaning up the Tuki Tuki. There are still cattle wading in the river, (a friend saw 55 the other day at one site). When this was expressed to someone on the HBRC, it was basically stated, unless the owner ‘voluntarily’ decides to fence his property there isn’t anything that can be done until 2018, as there is no law or whatever at present that can force him to do so. This is too late. We need to be cleaning it up NOW.

  4. He’s more than likely correct!! because it will be extremely lucky if there are 150 DUMB Farmers that will enter into a 35 year contract to buy Water.
    Also who has given the HBRCI permission to sell water that they do not own!!!!!

  5. I really wonder that myself. I thought that the water didn’t really ‘belong’ to anybody. This whole thing smells bad. And why are we giving away our water in lovely plastic bottles to be placed on Chinese shelves. Sorry, don’t get it!

  6. A round of applause for the phone message and for sharing :) Fantastic stuff, I love it!
    Common sense, both feet on the ground, the courage to take action and freedom of speech. This is liberal democracy encapsulated in a 2 minute sound bite. Brilliant.

    My only issue is with the timing. Public consultation bolted through the stable doors 18 months ago with a “don’t bother us about the details” sweet talking hype.

  7. Time goes on, money dripping out of our pockets every second and so the waste of our hard earned cash absorbed into the pockets of the frivolous few, then delight in their ill gotten gains.

    The dam is a dam dud dangerously destructive demolishing all our dreams of a better Hawkes Bay.

    A pile of rubble will be the long term legacy of this investment!

  8. Too true Dexter. At about 70 years the dam will probably need major repairs and upgrades. Guess who won’t be wasting their investment money on expensive maintenance?

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