This past Wednesday, I voted against committing $80 million of ratepayer funds to the Ruataniwha dam scheme.

During the debate, which can be viewed online here, pressure from the four dam skeptics — myself and Councillors Barker, Beaven and Graham — succeeded in ensuring that final approval of the dam, contingent upon several conditions the project is far from satisfying, would come back before the Regional Council by 30 September for another vote.

Consequently, your elected Councillors will still need to give final approval to the scheme, considering all of its aspects.

The requirements still to be met include unconditional sales contracts for 40 million cubic metres of irrigation water, a satisfactory investor/financing package, a firm construction contract that caps HBRC liability, and a workable set of environmental mitigation conditions.

Since not one of these conditions was satisfied on Wednesday, in my view it was premature — in fact, irresponsible — to be voting at that time on any ratepayer investment in the project.

Thursday, the Board of Inquiry released its final decision on management of the Tukituki catchment and the dam. That decision will take some time to comprehend, but I expect to offer some initial assessment over the weekend.

Meantime, here are the comments I made at the conclusion of Council debate …

Statement on HBRC Investment Decision

The process we are following to make this investment decision is indefensibly defective.

In the overview of her report on the Kaipara Council’s mismanagement of its $63 million wastewater scheme, the Auditor-General wrote:

“This report highlights lessons about governance – such as the need for members of a governing body to have the courage to keep asking questions until they understand what they are deciding…”

As Councillors we still await detailed information on critical contractual and financial assumptions. The only financial briefing from HBRIC to Councillors was verbal and presented in a workshop … a practice also criticised by the A-G.

As Councillors we have not been permitted to engage with the supposedly independent consultant, Deloitte, selected to advise us on the viability of the project, despite the fact that it is we Councillors, not the staff, their insights are intended to satisfy. As we sit here today Deloitte concedes that it cannot actually give a final assessment of the project’s viability.

Meanwhile, total mystery prevails around the readiness of farmers to actually back their rhetoric with their dollars, and around the conditions and escape clauses they are being offered to do so.

Most foolishly, we are asked to authorize an investment today that might be rendered entirely moot by the BOI within 48 hours, given HBRIC’s interpretation, or further challenged in court.

And regarding the BOI, as much as senior leaders of this Council and HBRIC attempt to paper over the fact, the draft decision of the BOI to reject the environmental mitigation scheme proffered by HBRC is a blow to the credibility of the scheme team. If they got it wrong on the Plan Change, where else have they got it wrong – on the ability of the dam to supply sufficient water in dry years, in the projected increases in farm productivity in an area with serious limiting factors other than water, on the claimed jobs and downstream economic benefits?

Critical as they are, my lingering concerns in these areas are trumped by the deficiencies in our decision-making readiness, as I’ve outlined.

From the Kaipara report: “There is a tendency to discount such points as bureaucratic, but they are fundamental to an effective and trusted public sector. In several reports recently, we have emphasised that, in the public sector, decisions have to not only be right but also be seen to be right. The process for decisions also matters, because the use of public money and power has to be clearly and properly authorised.”

The process this Council is following makes it impossible for me today to properly meet my fiduciary responsibilities to the ratepayers of Hawke’s Bay and to their environment. And I am not prepared to hand those responsibilities over to HBRIC, anointing them to judge whether requisite conditions are satisfied, which is the recommended proposal.

This investment is not ripe for a vote, even a symbolic one that would suggest that a compelling case has been made, which is where the amended language leaves us today.

Consequently I have only one option and that is to vote against the proposed Regional Council investment in the Ruataniwha scheme.

Join the Conversation


  1. The responce to the BOI final decision will be interesting. Given the .8 DIN limit stays nothing changes in my view. So the question is what of the future? I think the genisis of the answer should lie in working out the real reason the lights are going out in CHB and find solutions to these challenges.

    This won’t be easy as it will require a shift in status-quo thinking. In this respect our HBRC & CHBDC will require our support to take them through the transition in thinking. An interesting prospect indeed.

  2. “process this Council is following makes it impossible for me today to properly meet my fiduciary responsibilities to the ratepayers”

    Good on you Tom – pushing for a process that all elected representatives should insist on – keep up the good work.

  3. I agree with you Tom – you must have all the facts to be able to make an informed decision. Your focus and ability to explain what is happening is fantastic.

  4. Care to run a book on the outcome, Tom? My list of possible scenarios includes:
    1. Walk away, blaming the “unworkable conditions” imposed by the EPA.
    2. Sit tight saying that “the farmers and investors will determine whether it is practicable”. This allows for endless delays while they make that decision.
    3. Attempt to waive the preconditions, spinning about “infiltration rates, leaching rates, transport rates in the aquifer, LUC based on present use, variations in Overseer, financial constraints etc, etc” More delay.
    4. Remember that HBRC is the regulator, monitor and enforcer, after all, the townships in CHB have been dumping sewage into the Tukituki for years. No problem!
    5.Challenge the decision in court. HBRC hasn’t spent all the $80m yet, there is still money available for court action. Councillors don’t have to approve this, do they?

    Some good action in there, Tom.

  5. I would like anyone who has an interest in anything that may benefit from this scheme declare that interest. I know who have, and you may also know who I refer to. I feel this person should have disqualified himself long ago from any involvement in the approval or otherwise of this confounded dam. There is a real and disturbing conflict of interest being played out here. It may even be unlawful. It is certainly unethical.

  6. Sorry, I forgot:
    6. A real outside chance, it will pay massive amounts if it comes in: “John Key announces that the govt will build the dam to stimulate the rural economy.”

  7. It seems the Hawkes Bay Regional Council is embarking on a plan to build an asset which will become a huge liability; from the economic point of view it simply tightens the noose around the neck of already struggling rate payers, who will subsidize the banks and other civil engineering enterprises that will gain in the short term from these activities……..The Bankers will be laughing all their way to the bank!

    Farmers engaging in buying this water will gain less profit from more production so what is the point

    The Hawkes Bay Regional Council has cast the fishing line and some farmers maybe about to bite the hook, a hook that could send them bankrupt; no problem say the bankers we will have your farms and assets as quick as you can say-Heath Robinson!

  8. GOOD JOB TOM you should not vote for the dam without all the info./ undertakings, costs, construction /user guarantees, viability etc.
    To criticise you for being a good elected representative doing what you were voted in to do, shows that they want the Dam at any cost.
    If they took their usual stance – USER PAY – for this project,it would be DEAD IN THE WATER !
    The real beneficiaries of this project, dont want to pay for the dam and pay for the cost of keeping our rivers clean.

    To criticise your cartoon about bureaucrats dishonesty, which is only minor dishonesty, when compared to the extent of CHBDC management team.

    Richard Cuthbert

  9. Well done Tom. I do Not believe the ordinary Joe Blow citizen ratepayers of Hawke’s Bay ALSO understand that this Damn Dam will end any further Port of Napier dividends being available to be used to keep our rates down. The Dam will swallow-up the lot and all resulting, ever increasing rates monies too!!

    User pays -my arse!

  10. Have been uneasy about the proposal from the outset as I suspected insufficient attention was being given to critical environmental aspects.

    As a Ratepayer from the Western edge of the Wairoa District, I am not keen on having any rating liability for it.

    The clean and healthy river issue is important. Marketing produce internationally, and locally, is enhanced by sound environmental management.

    The actions taken by Councillors opposing a vote to invest until facts are available is entirely appropriate.

    Peter Williamson

  11. Firstly, Fenton Wilsons tirade, attempting to rein in the four council members who are against the dam project, from both an engineering and a commercial standpoint, is an affront to democracy. In fact it smacks of small minded politics, and “we” will have the dam at any cost so there!
    There is then of course Christine Scott who also appears to lack in the democracy department, ever heard of freedom of speech Christine.
    It is any persons god given right to dissent, it is even in our statutes, the whole dam scenario is of a debacle of IF’s & But’s of rather large proportions. created by a faction of the council who would build the dam at any cost with common sense and good advice tossed into the prevailing wind.
    It stands to reason that original investors have pulled out (with good reason) because there are no sound economics displayed by the pro dam council members, it is all smoke and puffery.
    My last comment would be that building a dam over or adjacent to a known geological fault line is not exactly a bright idea

  12. Keep on trucking Tom, the hopes of many rest with you and your like minded (ie sensible) regional councillors. In a letter to HB Today I expressed my opinion that Christine Scott should refrain from pursuing her “breach of code of conduct”claim against you. It seems to be just another diversionary tactic. We, the ratepayers are now in a “lose lose”situation. If the dam doesn’t go ahead there have been millions of dollars wasted on the feasibility studies (how much did the HBRC’s giant brains budget for that originally?) If it does go ahead things will be even worse, a huge financial disaster for most of us, but short term gains for a few.

  13. Since the Regional Council dried up my permanently running stream with all its naturally living plants and fish life, it has become clear to me that this rogue organisation must be brought back under control and hopefully dismantled completely but the later is an unlikely event.

    I am astounded how the hair dresser has become the brain surgeon which takes us back a few centuries!

    The absolute out-right ignorance of water systems and naturally occurring ecological balance is an enigma to most of the Hawkes Bay Regional Council members and their HBRIC off shoot.

    A little knowledge is a dangerous thing cannot be better exemplified as in this case.

    The worst case scenario of this proposed dam is salt water intrusion/ contamination of all the aquifers in the Hawkes Bay region, due to the breach of the sea/fresh water interface due to the lack of back pressure.

    I have observed sea water intrusion at high tide as far as Tennant Road on the Tuki Tuki River(The salt water being more dense than the fresh water penetrates up the river underneath the overflowing river water) in already high water extraction periods in late summer, as things are at the present time there is already some salt water intrusion to local bores in the area.

    The result of this extensive intrusion would be the complete collapse of orcharding and horticultural activities in the Napier/ Hastings over time.

    Salt water in our human and stock water supplies is a real possibility, this can be ignored at our peril but human nature being what it is, the problem is likely to be created before we will consider to acknowledge it; at which point it will be too late.

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