Cheers as nod given to $80m dam fund

18:48, Jun 25 2014

Investing $80 million in the proposed Ruataniwha dam will show the country Hawke's Bay is "open for business", says the regional council chairman.

Fenton Wilson's remark at a Hawke's Bay Regional Council meeting yesterday drew cheers from the large crowd.

Councillors yesterday voted 6-3 in favour of the investment, after making an amendment to the decision that would ensure the council had a final say after further due diligence had been carried out.

Just two months ago Wilson was wondering who would "turn the lights off" in Waipawa and Waipukurau after the release of a draft Board of Inquiry decision that was seen by some to include nutrient limits that would make some existing farming operations unviable.

While council funding is a major step toward gathering the $275m needed for the scheme, it is the board's decision, expected today or tomorrow, that will determine whether it is built.

Central Hawke's Bay councillor Debbie Hewitt said she had seen the devastating impacts of drought on families and communities in her area and the dam was "an enabler" that would provide resilience and irrigation and was "a gift to the community".

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The council's Maori Committee chairman and Central Hawke's Bay kaumatua, Mike Mohi, said the area had once been filled with Maori in work and their families.

"Now it's virtually 'spot the Maori'. All the workers have gone to Australia to get work."

Wilson said there was still work to be done, but the decision would send "a competent, coherent message to this region and, dare I say it, New Zealand, about investing in the future of Hawke's Bay".

It said "Hawke's Bay's here, we're open, we're ready for business. Bring your money. Let's go," he told the meeting.

Councillors Tom Belford, Rick Barker and Rex Graham did not support the decision.

Graham said he strongly supported water storage "and I would really love to support this project in Ruataniwha, but you have made it impossible for me".

"Despite continually trying to understand the business plan and the financials, I've been thwarted at practically every turn for detailed information."

The Dominion Post