'Bold' Ruataniwha dam project will never be risk-free
Hawke's Bay regional councillors have been told they will never be able to mitigate all the risks associated with a planned $80 million investment in the proposed Ruataniwha dam.
The $300 million-plus project has been on the drawing board for several years, but was put on hold late last year after a newly elected council called for a wide-ranging review of all aspects of the scheme, including its environmental and economic impact on the region.
That review – in the form of a 436-page report – was the subject of a three-hour council meeting on Wednesday.
Councillors will now consider its findings before a May 31 meeting where they a due to make a decision of the scheme's future.
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* Ruataniwha land-swap heading to Supreme Court
* Court of Appeal decision puts question mark over dam
* Farmer interest gives water storage scheme a boost
* Ruataniwha shed 'returned to sender' by Greenpeace
The council has so far pumped $19.5m of a proposed $80m investment into the project, with supporters arguing the widespread irrigation of Central Hawke's Bay's drought-prone Ruataniwha Plains will provide a major economic boost to the region.
But critics say the scheme will harm the environment by allowing more intensified farming in the district.
The co-ordinator of the $150,000 review process, council strategic development group manager James Palmer, told Wednesday's meeting the Ruataniwha scheme was "a particularly bold and transformational project".
Because it was a commercial venture, there were "inherently and inevitably a wide range of risks and some uncertainties" which were unavoidable in a project of the scheme's nature, Palmer told the meeting.
"Uncomfortably for councillors there is point in time at which a decision is required in relation to this scheme where there will remain some degree of uncertainty," he said.
"We are unable, in practical terms, to get to a point where we have totally removed the financial risks and uncertainties as well as the environmental ones. It's just the nature of the project."
He said it was up to the council to "draw a line" and decide whether the risks were acceptable or whether it should walk away from the project because of the uncertainties.
Complicating matter for the council is a judgment currently awaited from the Supreme Court related to the legality of a land-swap deal pivotal to the creation of the scheme's 7km-long irrigation reservoir in the foothills of the Ruahine Range.