A bad year for the dam’s promotors – HB Today Talking Point

A bad year for the dam’s promotors

2014 must have offered great hope for HBRC, HBRIC, and associated promoters of the dam such as Irrigation NZ and Federated Farmers. The Board of Inquiry appeared to have ended 2013 in a positive manner for them, and they had two corporate investors in the bank. As we come to the end of the year I wonder if the same hope remains.

As someone who followed the Board of Inquiry hearing reasonably closely there was a definite change in mood following the 3 days that the hearings were held at Matahiwi Marae. I think that during the Christmas break the members had taken the time to reflect on the evidence presented and had found some arguments presented by HBRIC & HBRC to be less than compelling.

In March Trustpower withdrew their support for the dam proposal. The timing of their announcement was enlightening as it came before the Board of Inquiry had released their draft findings in April. This meant they could only have had made the decision to pull out based on the proposal put to them by HBRIC, and not on the later reality. One has to wonder just how well HBRIC’s original proposal to Trustpower stacked up in the first place.

To my mind the two key findings of the Board of Inquiry were that the proposed one nutrient plan was a nonsense, and that limits for nitrogen were set. This could only come as a huge blow for the promoters of the dam, as it meant that landowners would not be able to leach nitrogen in an uncontrolled manner. It followed from this that the ability of landowners to convert to intensive farming, and therefore be able to pay for water from the dam, was going to be restricted.

DSC_0747The wheels really started to come off the dam scheme with the withdrawal of the only other corporate backer, Ngai Tahu, in May. Admittedly, much of their decision was based around the withdrawal of Trustpower but regardless the dam no longer has any corporate backers leaving a huge financial shortfall for HBRIC to fill. We also know that the Central Hawkes Bay District Council saw the light about investment returns and declined to invest a proposed lazy $5,000,000..

The Board of Inquiry released their final report in June, which was appealed on several points of law. Of course this lead to yet another pushing out of the ‘financial close’. I can’t recall how many times the date of financial close has been extended, but it is indicative of how finely balanced the dam proposal is financially.

That’s why I found it so surprising that HBRC was still willing to commit $80,000,000 of our money to the dam scheme in June. No doubt the number of conditions attached to this approval had something to do with it.

Of course, apart from continued marketing and promotion of the scheme at ratepayers expense (an additional $3,100,000 in costs were approved by HBRC in August), everything essentially went quiet pending the outcome of the Environment Court appeal. No new corporate investors have been found and landowners have only signed up to 12.5% of the 40 million cubic meters required to trigger the HBRC investment. I am positive that HBRIC would be shouting from the roof tops if either of these targets had been meet. Their silence is deafening.

So now we come to last weeks Environment Court decision. My reading of the findings is that the court has instructed the Board of Inquiry to go back and redraft a couple of clauses in Plan Change 6 so that individual landowners will be accountable for the amount of nitrogen they leach. This shouldn’t be an issue for landowners given we are told frequently by Federated Farmers that their members are genuine about maintaining or improving the water quality in the Tukituki. However I get the feeling that the findings of the Environment Court stymied the solution to pollution being so extensively and expensively promoted, making it very difficult for HBRIC to meet it’s sign up targets unless they make extensive use of arm twisting and peer pressure.

No matter how much spin is put on to it, nothing seems to have gone right for the dams promoters this year. It seems to me that the fact that none of the arguments in favour of the right to pollute have stood up to the test of independent scrutiny is what makes 2014 an annus horribilis for the promoters of the dam.

Published 23/12/14

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