Controversial Ruataniwha irrigation scheme on pause as new council to review plan

An artist's impression of the proposed Ruataniwha dam, which would be created near the foothills of the Ruahine Forest ...
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An artist's impression of the proposed Ruataniwha dam, which would be created near the foothills of the Ruahine Forest Park in Central Hawke's Bay.

Hawke's Bay regional councillors have voted to commission an independent review of the planned Ruataniwha water storage scheme.

A question mark has been hanging over the proposed Central Hawke's Bay irrigation project since last month's local government elections which saw a shift of power around the council table.

The council had previously agreed to invest $80 million into the $330m scheme provided certain conditions are met.

The only outstanding condition is final sign-up from other funders, including a central government irrigation investment fund and a "corporate" investor, believed to be ACC.

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At a regional council meeting on Wednesday councillors agreed to commission a review of the key contractual, legal, financial, economic and environmental elements of the scheme.

The review will including looking at the impacts and consequences of implementing Plan Change 6 – an upcoming framework of environmental regulations for the Ruataniwha catchment – both with and without the scheme.

Plan Change 6 requires an increase in flows down waterways in the catchment – a change that dam supporters say would be achieved through the scheme.

The council review will also look at the implications of withdrawing from the scheme.

James Palmer, the council's group manager strategic development, is due to report back to councillors at their November 30 meeting with detailed advice on the packages of work to be included in the review.

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Palmer's report to the meeting will also outline the staffing and financial requirements of the review, how long it will take and whether any external advice will be required.

In a report prepared for Wednesday's meeting, council staff said it was expected the full review could be completed by the end of February.

Council chairman Rex Graham told the meeting the community was insisting on pausing and "having a cup of tea" so it is time to review the scheme and all the issues surrounding it.

Graham said whatever councillors decided there would be serious consequences and it was important the council was fully informed before making future decisions on the scheme.

 - Stuff

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