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.