My grandmother always seemed to have a saying to cover any eventuality. One of them was ‘fools rush in where angels fear to tread’. I could understand what fools rush in part but what was I to make of where angels fear to tread? Sadly there is an example right before us which to my mind offers up an explanation.
To date some $12,000,0000 has been spent on getting the dam to the position it is at today and a further $2,000,000 of operating expenses was approved last Wednesday. This means a minimum of $14,000,000 in expenses will be incurred by the rate payers of Hawkes Bay before construction of the dam can proceed.
At present there four stumbling blocks which need to be overcome before financial close can be achieved. As a reminder these conditions are viable contracts for 40 million cu m, a viable construction contract, investors and workable consents. No argument there. What has been forgotten however is that there are two other rather large stumbling blocks which seem to have gone under the radar.
Firstly HBRIC has yet to obtain clear title to all of the land that they intend to flood to create the dam reservoir. I’m talking of course of the proposed Conservation Land ‘land swap’ deal. There is a very strong argument that DOC does not have the legal mandate to make this deal, which is why I believe that whatever the decision is that is made by DOC it will be appealed. If DOC declines the deal then HBRIC will appeal, and if DOC approves the deal then someone else will appeal. You do have to wonder though, given that the Makaroro valley has been the preferred site for the dam for going on two years why is the process of obtaining clear title only in it’s infancy? Whatever you may feel about the proposed ‘land swap’ it is hard to disagree that the delay in getting the process started can only be described as incompetence. The blame for any delays can only be laid with the management of HBIC.
Secondly the recent Environment Court finding on Plan Change 5 found that there should be objectives in the Regional Policy Statement saying ‘No degradation of existing ground water quality in the Heretaunga Plains and Ruataniwha Plains aquifer systems’ and ‘The maintenance or enhancement of groundwater quality in aquifers in order that it is suitable for human consumption and irrigation without treatment, or after treatment where this necessary because of the natural water quality’ Why is this important you might ask? Given that Plan Change 6 has to give effect to Plan Change 5, in my mind (and I’m not a lawyer so this is not a legal opinion) this means that any land management resource consents issued in the Ruataniwha Plains have to ensure that the Ruataniwha aquifer does not degrade any further than it has at present. That’s the bottom line. Regardless of the final outcome of Plan Change 6 it seems to me that there can be no further intensification of farming on the Ruataniwha Plains given that nitrogen leaches into the aquifer. My advise to any landowners considering signing up to the RWSS would seek an independent advise on this, as this decision is likely to make it impossible to gain an economic return on any capital investment in on farm irrigation infrastructure.
Plan change 5 was originally notified in October 2012, and again one has to wonder why so much money has been spent on the dam before Plan Change 5 is finalised. As a Regional Policy Statement in the hierarchy of RMA documents Plan Change 5 was always going to trump Plan Change 6, which is only part of the Regional Resource Management Plan. The attempt to run these two processes in parallel, along with the RWSS consenting process, can again only be described as incompetence.
I’m not privileged enough to know what goes on in the minds of those in control of HBRIC but I can form an opinion based on observation of the players when they present reports etc. in public forums. We all suffer from imperfections. It’s part of the human condition after all. Personally I believe ego and arrogance to be part of the human condition and unfortunately these two frailties have been demonstrated in spades. Ego because any opposition to ideas presented by HBRIC are ignored or the messenger degenerated, and arrogance because there is a belief that everyone will bow to the mighty intellect of those in charge because they must be right after all. This is unfortunate because ego is what stops the players from taking stock with their eyes wide open and to ask is this still the best solution to fixing the Tukituki, and because arrogance is what is costing the rate payers of Hawkes Bay so dearly given that HBRIC continues to put the cart before the horse.
No rational person would imagine that the process taken to get the RWSS off the ground has been perfect. Personally I believe that the process has been so flawed that if it was me I would be afraid to put my hand up and admit to being part of managing the process. That’s what I think is meant by where angels fear to tread, something that also correlates with the academic meaning of my grandmother’s saying which is “the rash or inexperienced will attempt things that wiser people are more cautious of”