Regional councillor warned over water take

AARON LEAMAN
Last updated 06:44 21/05/2014

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A Waikato Regional councillor accused of taking water without consent during the region's scorching dry spell is adamant he has done nothing wrong.

Councillor Hugh Vercoe last week received a formal warning from council for taking water on his Tauhei property without consent.

Staff are also investigating Vercoe regarding alleged modifications to a dam on his 728-hectare property.

Council chairperson Paula Southgate notified fellow councillors of the investigation on Monday following inquires from the Waikato Times.

Vercoe said he was happy to comply with the formal warning but said his actions were those of a good neighbour.

Vercoe, a former Matamata-Piako Mayor, told the Times he began pumping water from a large detention pond on his property in 2011 after becoming aware of increased flooding to his neighbours downstream.

The pond is managed by the regional council and is part of the Tauhei flood protection system.

"In 2011 we had a meeting at the Tauhei Hall where all the cockies turned up and said: ‘We're getting increased flooding and a lot of it is because of you, Hugh Vercoe'," he said.

"I therefore attempted to minimise this by pumping water from the dam on to the adjacent paddocks. This was done to increase the actual capacity within the dam."

Vercoe said regional council staff were aware of his actions at the time and believed he had done nothing wrong.

He had no intention of resigning from the council.

"I defy you to tell me what I have done that I shouldn't have. If they [council] didn't want me to pump the water then they should have told me in 2011 and I would have stopped."

Southgate said she would have a sit-down chat with Vercoe about the incident but would not get involved in the regulatory process.

"The warning is for taking water without consent over the summer period and I know the history and details from Hugh's perspective but I haven't caught up with the details from staff. I have confidence in our processes," Southgate said.

Water quality commentator Angus Robson of Matamata said everyone was deserving of a second chance but he was surprised Vercoe had allegedly not followed correct procedures.

The incident did not reflect well on the regional body and should result in Vercoe being put on notice, Robson said.

Former regional council deputy chairman Simon Friar said there was a public expectation councillors adhere to high standards.

However, not all indiscretions could be regarded as deliberate.

Green Party candidate for Hamilton East Mark Servian hoped an elected member would understand the formal consenting requirements to take water "as opposed to an informal agreement".

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"It's completely reasonable that a councillor would have a handle on the stuff that is the core business of the entity they were a councillor on." 

- Waikato Times

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