So claims Regional Council chairman Fenton Wilson, lamenting the Board of Inquiry’s decision to require serious environmental protection for the Tukituki catchment.

The Board of Inquiry, to the surprise of the Regional Council, has ordered that HBRC get tough about regulating both nitrogen/nitrates and phosphorus so as to protect waterways in the Tukituki catchment. The plan proposed by HBRC — and opposed by environmentalists and most Maori — was soft on nitrogen, opening the door to further degradation of our waterways.

The Board of Inquiry sided emphatically with the case made by environmentalists, rejecting what it termed the “hands off” approach of the HBRC.

And that’s typically how the environment has been protected in Hawke’s Bay in recent years.

  1. Citizens successfully appealed to the Environment Court to block cliff-side development at Cape Kidnappers.
  2. Citizens undertook the grassroots campaign that thwarted the plan to develop Ocean Beach into a vast residential community.
  3. Two citizens, appealing successfully to the Environment Court, won stringent requirements for CHB to stop pouring its sewage into the Tukituki … over the objections of the CHB District Council and the Regional Council.
  4. And now citizens have won strong protection of the Tukituki overcoming the weak plan of the Regional Council and its hired experts.

In short, a victory won in spite of the Regional Council, who all along has sought to denigrate and marginalise environmental advocates.

The ironies in all this are numerous.

First, the HBRC (and its corporate offspring, HBRIC) basically ‘shopped for a judge’ in choosing to take its case to a Board of Inquiry instead of the Environment Court. They took one look at the Environment Court’s recent tough decisions on freshwater protection and decided a politically-selected Board of Inquiry would be more friendly to development objectives. HBRC persisted in pushing a half-a-loaf environmental mitigation plan that had already been rejected by the Environment Court. But, surprise, the Board of Inquiry wound up on the same page as the Environment Court.

Second, HBRC, having spent $1.5 million on an army of experts and witnesses to present ‘sound science’ to the BOI (and at least $3 million on the overall EPA process), found its ‘sound science’ rebutted by a handful of environmentalist-funded experts supported by a comparatively frugal budget in the $200,000 range.

Third, in requiring specified limits on nitrogen leaching according to soil type, the BOI relied on testimony from Garth Eyles, a former employee of HBRC with nationally-recognised expertise in soil/land management, who has been critical of HBRC’s approach to the Tukituki catchment. And in deciding to require management of both nitrogen and phosphorus, the BOI noted that three of HBRC’s own witnesses, now advocating a one nutrient approach in this case, had previously recommended a dual nutrient approach. The BOI commented: “…the Board found the change in position by these experts difficult to understand. We were not persuaded that it could be explained on the basis that the Tukituki catchment involved different considerations.”

Fourth, the  HBRC, which touts itself as the necessary independent bastion of defence for the environment (and should therefore be left apart from any future amalgamation), is now trash talking the environmental protection decision of the BOI.

And fifth, having eagerly placed HBRC/HBRIC’s plans in the hands of the BOI, Chairman Wilson now accuses the BOI of ruining CHB’s economy.

For its part, the BOI says: “The Board appreciates that such a regime will involve a cost to farmers. Nonetheless, the Board has concluded that the time has been reached where that cost will have to be met if serious efforts are to be made to avoid further degradation and restore the Tukituki waterways to health.”

Further:

“The limits we have adopted will allow high performance farmers to intensify by implementing some or all of the advanced management strategies identified by Andrew Macfarlane of Macfarlane Rural Business (MRB) and Dr Alison Dewes who gave evidence on behalf of Fish and Game. It also recognises that as a discharger of nutrients and contaminants, the primary sector is no different from any other industry. It has the same obligations to operate within limits and internalise effects, or mitigate those effects where absolute internalisation is not possible.”

The BOI notes that HBRC’s favourite consultant Macfarlane (source of all HBRC/HBRIC farm run-off and production projections) “was able to identify many examples of how good farm management practices could be incorporated into a farming regime” so that both environmental goals and land use intensification could be achieved.

In short, the sky isn’t falling, Fenton. The lights won’t go out.

To the contrary, as the BOI evidence makes clear, smart farmers in CHB can do just fine under the BOI-mandated dual nutrient management regime.

Tom Belford

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7 Comments

  1. Great decision by the BOI and a great article Tom. If this attitude spreads throughout New Zealand we will definitely be able to boast about being 100% pure for all time…and still have a very profitable agricultural sector.

  2. Tom, another wonderful synopsis and better still, another example of the HBRC shooting itself in the foot.
    While I do not pretend to understand all the environmental concerns that the BOI has alluded to, my opposition to this socialist project was all about the financial risk to our community.
    It is now time for our regional Chair to acknowledge he has been well and truly beaten by his derisory and failed attempt to “shop” for a compliant judge and concentrate on protecting our environment instead of supporting a failed scheme which would have clearly destroyed it.
    He, together with the HBRIC board and their CEO should do the honourable thing and resign.
    After all they have been directly responsible for millions and millions of ratepayers money being wasted on a “pet ” project while at the same time enjoying draw-dropping salaries and fees.

  3. I’m writing to give an urban Hawke’s Bay ‘born here’ but ‘since living rural for a couple of decades now’ opinion. Born here but lived away in my twenties, moved back in my thirties and vehemently protective of my roots. I also profess to being a major ratepayer.

    I don’t proclaim to know any of the councillors personally nor those vocally opposed, in fact I CHOOSE not to. I stand alone in my opinion, motivated solely by my desire to leave a fertile, productive uncompromised Hawke’s Bay to my children’s children and wider whanau.

    I am disappointed by the closed door attitude of the HBRC. I am also bamboozled by the creation of the HBRIC and the transferral of Andrew Newman from the HBRC CEO to his new role in the HBRIC which seems a lucrative and unopposed shift for him without any competition nor opposition. Somehow I funded it and I am meant to be happy with his $380K salary, which is in addition to his old role as CEO of HBRC where Liz Lambert now resides, albeit temporarily. I want to know when does it STOP!

    I’m sick of increases in my rates! I can’t see how any of this is any benefiting myself and my family and I want it to end. I can only say I see it all as frivolous and unjustified and if it was their own money – would the same scenario preside??? Yes I believe in progress, but at what cost?

  4. Tom, there is a great article penned by Rod Oram in today’s Sunday Star Times on page D24 titled ” Spanner in the waterworks” which backs up the BOI and raises many pertinent questions as to the projects financial viability.
    A must read for all.

  5. It’s nice to have a win on this one. The broader problem NZ faces, raised by, amongst others, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, is that good farming practices can’t solve the problem. The rate of farm conversions to dairy has been amazing to see, and all the forecasts indicate it will continue for another decade or more. The issue we face is that, if farming practices improve by 20% but we increase the number of dairy farms by 40%, our rivers will get worse. All the while farmers will, quite fairly, say they’re doing an increasingly good job.

    There is a choice to be made between ‘clean green NZ’ and the financial juggernaut that is the dairy industry. It’s a tough one for the policy wonks in Wellington. One strategy is clear – they are already significantly increasing the regulatory hurdle for farmers. The farmers will cry foul; the environmentalists will cry foul – and they’ll both be right.

  6. Chairman Wilson should be content with the Board of Inquiry’s decision because the scope of the hearing did not go beyond the river mouth and include the effects the Ruataniwha Dam will have on the Napier coastline. The dam will make a major contribution to coastal erosion and the progressive loss of the shingle barrier ridge which is protecting valuable property and infrastructure between Clive and Tangoio.

    The Environment Court would consider changes to gravel supplies and reduced flood flows which transport material via the Tukituki River to replenish HB’s gravel beaches. The Court would no doubt rule, the risks to the coastal environment are unacceptable. However, according to the Chairman, compliant Councillors and the CEO of HBRIC speaking at the Regional Council meeting on 30/04/14, the project proceeding is a fait accompli. The meeting concentrated on how the Council should dress up and promote the “done deal” RWSS to satisfy the public.

    HBRC engineers response to my submission to the BOI lead to a request for further explanation on facts and figures extracted from HBRC documents. Council engineers refused to address the issues and replied “Your opinions as you have outlined them are just opinions and they do not substitute for facts” and “There is little to be gained in my responding to the points you have made”.

    The only option to advance my genuine concerns was to write to local media.

  7. Letter for anyone interested and non subscribers to HB Today

    I agree with Phil King (article “Dam Project Vital” 18 April) that the Ruataniwha Dam is a “game-changer” for a group of HB farm owners and it “should be good” for the regional economy but I’m not convinced it’s “vital”. I fully support water storage but not at the expense of the environment. Ratepayers will be quick to support ventures that improve the economy but not when opportune wealth is created for a few and the community has to bear the huge burden if the project fails.

    The Dam appears to pass the test for engineering however financial viability will be confirmed when there is a waiting list to invest and a queue to purchase water. Past forays into growing grapes, apples, deer, wool, kiwi fruit and pine trees question the certainty for this long term investment. Water use will be dominated by high profit milk production which is no less vulnerable to fickle markets, NZ dollar and emerging competitors. The financial risks belong to private enterprise, not Councillors with three year contracts.

    The dam will make a major contribution to future erosion on beaches between Clive and Tangoio. Damage to these natural assets has been overlooked by some local farmers who take a narrow view on preserving the environment. NCC has also overlooked the potential disaster and the huge costs to protect City infrastructure.

    My Submission to the Environment Protection Authority opposed the dam because it impedes the flow of vital replenishment for HB’s gravel beaches. The Board of Inquiry did not consider issues beyond the river mouth because the HBRC brief to the expert engineer (11.5 page 20) noted – [his] assessment did not address pre-existing coastal erosion. As expected, my submission was rejected eventhough reduced gravel supply and fewer flood flows in the Tukituki River are the principal causes of erosion.

    The dam will block 42% of the total erodible catchment area which is the sole source of gravel for Napier beaches for at least 100 years. Also, the dam will reduce water volumes and lessen typical flood flows which are critical for the transport of sand and gravel to the coast. HBRC insist river flows and gravel supplies via the Makaroro River are insignificant because the catchment area is only 4% of the total catchment for the Tukituki River. Surely, blocking 42% of available gravel is significant. Quoting the 4% catchment to minimise the effect of the dam, in terms of water flows, is irrelevant when rainfall in the Ruahine Ranges is compared to similar areas (111 km2) towards the coast.

    According to HBRC, the Dam will reduce gravel movement from the Ruahine Ranges to the coast by a mere 1,700 m3/year based on a pre-dam total of 24,700 m3/year. HBRC will replace this loss of gravel from within the river system where it would otherwise get to the coast in the next flood. Restoring the annual average with 1,700 m3 is meagre compared to 47,800 m3 extracted at Awatoto Shingle Plant, 17,500 m3 to nourish Westshore Beach, 20,000 m3 trapped in the Port shipping channel then dumped offshore and 30,400 m3 lost to the inshore by abrasion.

    Based on HBRC data, a serious problem is obvious when the gravel deficit for the coast is over 90,000 m3/year (24,700 m3 input less 114,900 m3 loss). The beach gravel deficit was not an issue during the three years following Cyclone Bola when 477,000 m3 entered the coast. This reserve kept beaches in equilibrium for the next seven years when just 1,130 m3 was supplied to the coast.

    Beaches between Clive and Tangoio are totally dependent on this source of sand and gravel. Any interruption to the sole source of replenishment for Napier beaches will change a state of accretion which existed for thousands of years, into a state of permanent erosion. Idealistically, if rivers were left alone, gravel would continue to raise the beach barrier crest so only low lying areas around the estuary would be affected by rising sea levels.

    Gravel beaches need more storms in the ranges, major floods and less extraction. In time, this project will cause irreparable damage to recreational beaches, disrupt Marine Parade assets, threaten Napier’s CBD and leave a big mess for future generations.

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