Council vote brings dam project one step closer

A proposed dam that would change the economy and landscape of Hawke's Bay has crossed its biggest hurdle so far and will proceed to the Environmental Protection Authority.

Hawke's Bay Regional Council voted 8-1 yesterday in favour of lodging a resource consent application for a dam on a tributary of the Tukituki River in order to improve the river's water quality and to store water for irrigation.

Much of the debate was around the consequences of not building the 85-metre-high dam - namely, the economic effect of severe reductions in the volume of water taken from the river, and the cost of future droughts.

The dam is expected to provide irrigation to 25,000 hectares west of Waipawa, to boost the region's gross domestic product by up to $270 million and to result in 2000 more jobs.

Handling of the resource consent application was passed yesterday to the Hawke's Bay Regional Council Investment Company, consisting of three councillors, three appointed members and council chief executive Andrew Newman.

The council has set aside $80m of ratepayer funds for the project, should it go ahead.

The application looks likely to be seen as a project of national significance and to be called in by the environment minister in February. If it goes before a board of inquiry, as appears most likely, the board must make a decision within nine months.

The public gets a chance to be heard as part of this process.

While this occurs, the investment company will investigate an ownership model, negotiate the cost to irrigators and establish whether the council should proceed with the project if consent is granted.

The only councillor against lodging the application was Liz Remmerswaal, who felt the dam's benefits had been overstated, with too much focus on "high productivity, not high profitability".

However, Mr Newman said that since climate change was likely to bring longer and more sustained droughts to the area, the council "would be silly not to be looking at infrastructural changes" to deal with it.

Councillor Tim Gilbertson, who lives beside the river, said the dam would not proceed unless it was good for the environment.

He saw the project as a means to boost the Central Hawke's Bay economy and to keep young people from leaving for Queensland.

Council chairman Fenton Wilson said no final decision on whether the water storage project went ahead would be made until the project gained resource consent. If it did, there would be further consultation.

Contact Marty Sharpe
Hawke's Bay reporter

The Dominion Post