On Wednesday, the Regional Council makes its critical political decision on whether to proceed with its dam scheme for CHB. After this, there will be no turning back … unless a Board of Inquiry or outside investors balk.

Deceivingly, to put it politely, Council leaders have sought to minimise the decision to be made Wednesday and to disarm those complaining about undue haste.

On the one hand, they say this is “merely” a decision to:

a) authorise preparation of a resource consent application for the dam that will, HBRC hopes, be “called in” by the Environment Minister and be considered by a special Board of Inquiry. In that venue, says HBRC, environmental concerns can be fully ventilated. Of course that assumes concerned enviros can come up with the cash to further amplify the concerns and submissions already presented which the Regional Councillors have chosen to ignore.

b) hand the project over to the HB Regional Investment Corp, who, as the actual consent applicant, will further vet the financial and economic case. However, we’re given no clue as to how that process will unfold or whether it will be transparent. Given the history of this project to date, that process will be anything but transparent.

So, in other words, concerned citizens shouldn’t get in a lather over Wednesday’s decision … it’s just a transition point to put the project in more capable hands … there will be plenty of time for critics to dispute the case.

On the other hand, the same Council leaders argue that the project has already undergone 2+ years of study … it’s been studied to death … the “issues are on the table” says HBRC … no more time is needed for the public to make an informed judgment on the matter.

True, there’s no disputing that the Council (i.e. staff and consultants) has been developing the project for years. However, it’s also a fact that the most critical environmental and economic information necessary to evaluate the scheme wasn’t put on the table until late August into mid-September. Indeed, most of the Council’s time was spent urgently searching for dam sites that wouldn’t be too vulnerable to earthquakes — a process that slowly whittled from nearly 20 candidates and off-river storage to today’s magic ONE dam on the Makaroro. Talk about putting all of one’s eggs in one basket!

So the argument that the public has had 2+ years to understand and get comfortable with this project is pure horse manure.

This project today does not have public buy-in that any $600 million investment in the future of the Bay must have.

But Councillors just don’t want to know. Baybuzz first reported on the scheme on 29 March 2009. Actually, it was a guest article by then-Chair of the HBRC Alan Dick proudly announcing the “pre-feasibility study” on the scheme. Then on 19 July 2009 we reported that CEO Andrew Newman briefed the Council and indicated his intention to propose a full study the following month.

At the July 2009 meeting, Councillor Tim Gilbertson called the irrigation scheme “the most important economic development for the region since refrigeration”. And he hasn’t changed his opinion one iota since then. Evidence and submissions be damned. If that doesn’t constitute predetermination, what does?

Has Tim read the dozens of reports HBRC has produced on a $600 million dam in his own constituency, that he’s willing to bet $80 million of your rates on? No, he says in the press. Can Tim produce a single farmer potentially in the scheme footprint who’s ready to sign-up for it? $20 says he can’t; but he says they want it. Tim, for every one who wants it, I’ll produce one who doesn’t.

So why the dam(n) hurry, Tim?

For Tim and his Council colleagues, that answer lies in politics.

They want to be seen taking some action before their next re-election campaigns in 2013 that they can claim fixes all the damage to the Tukituki catchment they’ve presided over … a majority of them a dozen years or more by then.

Plus, the staff and Councillors must be concerned that the Government’s $400 million irrigation fund might slip away (because of budget constraints or an election surprise) before Hawke’s Bay gets its bite.

Those are the two reasons for the hurry.

It has nothing to do with sound decision-making supported by the people of Hawke’s Bay.

Tom Belford

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  1. Hi – Thanks very much to Cr Liz R for emailing through a very rough time estimate of 9.30am which may be helpful for those taking time off work on Wednesday to attend.

  2. A vote for Resource Consent is more than a vote for the dam to go ahead.

    It’s also a vote to mortgage, or more likely sell our regional assets, the port, and lease-hold properties, to finance the HBRC contribution.

    49% of the Port offered to ‘mum and dad’ investors is on the cards.

    So all those Councillors who’ve pledged ‘no asset sales’ in the past are either, not thinking forward, or have changed policy.

    Which is it? Councillors who voted ‘yes’. Because your vote is a vote for asset sales.

    I do appreciate your dilemma. You will be acutely aware of what happened to Environment Canterbury when Councillors were divided over water issues, and irrigators’ plans were being held up. Commissioners were appointed, and for 8 years democracy is suspended.

    If you hold up the dam, you too might get the boot.

    Let’s forget about the degradation of rivers and lakes that intensive farming have caused in Canterbury and Southland.

    Councillors know the dam has strong support from Government, and as long as it doesn’t come before Judge Thomson of the Environment Court, it has a very good chance of proceeding.

    If this is about politics and the 2013 election, I’m looking forward to Councillors explaining their support for assets sales.

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