Hundreds pack public meeting on Ruataniwha dam plan

An impression of the proposed Ruataniwha dam, west of Waipawa.
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An impression of the proposed Ruataniwha dam, west of Waipawa.

One side painted a bright picture of the proposed Ruataniwha dam as revitalising the Hawke's Bay economy. The other described the $275 million scheme as unviable and "stuck in the valley of death".

There was barely room to move at Tamatea Intermediate's hall in Napier on Thursday night, with more than twice the expected number of people turning out to hear the pros and cons of the proposed dam.

The crowd of about 600 came to hear two teams of speakers: one from proponents and their experts, and one from opponents.

Andrew Newman, chief executive of the Hawke's Bay Regional Council's investment arm, said the scheme would give the region a lift. As well as bringing economic and environmental benefits to the region, it  would "insulate the community against climate change".

He said the hard times that had befallen Waipawa and Waipukurau recently were obvious to any visitor, and the scheme "will bring back vitality". "It's more than just irrigation."

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The proposed dam and irrigation scheme west of Waipawa would supply water to between 27,000 and 28,000 hectares of land. Proponents said it would create 2250 new jobs and inject $250m into Hawke's Bay's economy each year.

Environmental consultant Stephen Daysh, who has worked on the dam proposal for four years, said the company would "meet and exceed" environmental conditions imposed by the board of inquiry that recently granted consents for the scheme.

The conditions imposed were "the most robust out of any irrigation scheme in New Zealand", and waterways in the Tukituki catchment would improve if it went ahead.

Economist Peter Fraser said the project "is not commercially viable and it's not economically feasible". The dam was "stuck in the valley of death" because the projected price of water – at 26 cents a cubic metre – was too high for farmers and too low for investors.

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Latest information from the investment company stated 53 agreements had been signed with potential water users, accounting for 20m cubic metres of water. It wants to have 45m signed up by November to meet the required target.

A further 173 agreements, accounting for 21.9m cubic metres, were under negotiation, it said.

The OHL Hawkins consortium that holds the construction contract is going to "revalidate" the price by September, and the council investment company expected to have a "reworked base case financial model" completed around the same time.

The investment company planned to make a final decision on whether the scheme would proceed before the end of this year.

 - Stuff

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