Yesterday HBRIC announced that it almost had reached the HBRC-stipulated goal of ‘signed and sealed’ water user contracts committing CHB farmers to buying 45 million cubic metres of dam water per year over the next 35 years. The signed contracts totalled 42.8 cubes, with the promise of more in the pipeline, plus a new device … options to buy.
As I commented at the HBRC meeting yesterday, I respect the 196 farmers who actually signed those commitments — that’s a tough decision to make.
Having said that, an equal number of CHB farmers (200), after similar reflection, have said ‘No’ to the scheme.
So after two years of aggressive promotion of the scheme by HBRIC, half the CHB farming community operating within the (steadily expanding) dam footprint, has said ‘Yes’, and half has said ‘No’.
And that ‘draw’ despite intense lobbying and advertising by HBRIC over the past two months. The pressures put on these farmers was enormous — they’ve sampled what delegates to the Republican nominating convention in the US will soon face!
With all that effort, HBRIC has barely made the mark. Hardly the outpouring of community support for a $900 million venture that HBRIC CEO Andrew Newman claimed.
And now HBRIC must still somehow find the additional — about 50% more — water contracts the scheme would require to be truly viable — i.e., to pay all operating costs, mitigation commitments, borrowings and investor returns over the life of the project.
HBRIC suggested they could get those additional commitments from the group of farmers already signed up. That’s hugely ambitious and leaves no margin for error.
Before agreeing that any water uptake condition has been met, I for one need to have a far better understanding of exactly what ‘the deal’ is. Even as a councillor, I had to insist on receiving a copy of the latest revised Water User Agreement to review, only learning about it from a CHB farmer. And now I’ve been denied a request to have HBRC legal counsel made available to answer questions about its terms. This current agreement includes new elements and is more complex that the original agreement we were shown long ago … and at that time we did have the opportunity to put our questions about it to legal counsel.
So why the refusal now?
In any event, there are more hurdles for the scheme to overcome …
- An independent Deloitte’s review will give councillors an opportunity to finally examine HBRIC’s business case in detail.
- The Forest & Bird legal challenge regarding the DOC land swap needed for the dam reservoir is yet to be heard by the High Court (May 26), and would likely be appealed by whichever party ‘loses’ at that point.
- An investor — HBRIC has yet to establish that it has a funding source other than ratepayers or taxpayers, or borrowing, committed to the project.
- And now a potential conflict of interest involving one of the supporting councillors.
There’s still a lot of water to flow over this dam.