John Key in a press briefing today predicted that the decision made by the Board of Inquiry on managing the Tukituki and building a dam would go to the High Court.

Wow … they haven’t even made the final decision yet and Key expects an appeal. What is this … wishful thinking? On what is he basing that prediction. If I were Judge Lester Chisholm, BOI chairman, I’d have two judicious words for Key: “Get stuffed!”

Chisholm can rightly be thinking … “You Government guys (and gals, think Environment Minister Amy Adams) picked me to do this job, obviously confident that I was the right guy … and capable too. Now let me do my job.”

Key managed to get some facts wrong, suggesting that Trustpower and Ngai Tahu pulled out of the dam because of the BOI draft decision. But Trustpower backed out earlier, and Ngai Tahu was only in the deal if Trustpower was.

Closer to home, Andy Pearce, chairman of HBRIC, the Regional Council’s investment company and promoter of the dam, could scarcely contain his contempt for the BOI’s draft decision on Plan Change 6. In The Listener, Pearce effectively predicts an end to agriculture as we know it in Hawke’s Bay (and all of New Zealand for that matter) and says the numbers underpinning the interim decision don’t pass the “sanity check”.

It’s clear that Pearce thinks the five members of the Board of Inquiry either slept though the brilliant evidence Team Dam presented regarding a minimalist approach to protecting the Tukituki, or were too dumb to understand it.

As others see it, the BOI knowingly and properly dismissed the HBRC/HBRIC water quality proposal as a “hands off” approach.

Meantime, Irrigation New Zealand is leading the gloom and doom charge, peddling to media a map they commissioned from NIWA intended to show how vast swatches of NZ farmland would be crippled if the environmental standards articulated by the BOI became national precedents. Their release says: “Research found that all waterways in highly productive fertile plains of the country exceeded the limit.”

But oddly, the NIWA study — referring to the nitrogen standard that most upsets Pearce, HBRC execs, Key, Irrigation NZ et al — concludes that “the 0.8 mg/L threshold is exceeded in approximately 10% of New Zealand waterways.” That hardly sounds draconian.

NIWA hasn’t returned my call seeking a clarification.

The upshot of all this is that the Ruataniwha dam has now become a mere sideshow for the national players. The BOI decision — if the draft becomes the final — is a major “spanner” (as The Listener put it) in the National Government’s pro-irrigation at any cost agenda. Whether a dam gets built in CHB is no longer the focus, what is at stake as the Nats see it is the ability of intensified farming, especially dairying, to continue to off-load its environmental costs to the public … in the form of diminished water quality and ratepayer/taxpayer subsidised irrigation.

So tune in. Tomorrow (Wednesday the 28th) HBRIC’s Pearce will present to the Regional Council, giving his version of the implications of the BOI’s water quality plan. This Council meeting will be videotaped and archived for your leisure viewing.

Perhaps he will agree with John Key that a legal appeal is in order if the BOI stands by its draft decision. In any event, it will be a dam interesting presentation!

Tom Belford

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  1. If Fentons Folly (aka the ruataniwha dam) goes belly up I do wonder how much individual ratepayer money can be recovered and returned by selling up Regional Council assets? Do they have any assets? Could ratepayers take a class action for compensation against councillors who committed public money to this scheme? Why is ‘user pays’ so big in most right wing politics when they need to provide a service but it is ‘lets get our nose into the public trough’ when they identify a pool of public money. Why is it the only large amount of money committed to this dam so far is coming from people who have not had a direct say in how it is being used? Will Bay Buzz be providing some answers to these many questions? (Lets hope so)

  2. Brilliant Tom! How comic (if it weren’t so tragic) that a ‘call for a pause’ earlier last year by so many groups and individuals were rejected by HBRC in favour of progressing to a Board of Inquiry… Independent; arms length; objective; highly credentialed; non-emotive; government appointed; ra, ra, blah blah, etc!
    I am told from people apparently ‘in the know’ that Andrew Newman’s career aspiration is to be NZ’s Dam Expert – and this government’s expert on intensive irrigation! Boy,
    has he mucked this one up!

  3. What puzzles me, Tom, is that the farmers benefiting from the Dam and its irrigation water are so slow to sign up. So far no-one has committed to taking any water. When one considers that with about 200 farmers and a dam cost of $276 million, the subsidy level averages $1.4 million each, you would think there would be more enthusiasm shown!
    Given the lack of response, is it really going to be worth destroying local government for?

  4. My apologies, people. At the 28th May meeting of HBRC it was revealed that “350+” farmers might benefit from the Dam. The subsidy drops to about $800000 each on average, so that might explain the lack of enthusiasm. Not enough, eh?

  5. I wonder if Fenton Wilson is a member of the Magic Circle? I heard him say (at Havelock North Community Centre) that the $80 million of ratepayers’ assets would have no effect on ratepayers. This man can produce something out of nothing! Mind you, both the HBRC and the HBRIC are pretty good at pulling rabbits out of top hats.

  6. I am so pleased there are people who can provide a less “gung-ho” approach to the whole question of dams and intensification, and land use to the detriment of the environment. Keep it Tom and co.

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