Central Plains Water (CPW) owes almost $500,000 for hearings on its controversial irrigation scheme, Canterbury's regional council says.
Opponents say this raises further questions about the scheme's economic viability, considering it has been lent millions of dollars by councils and dairy companies to keep it afloat.
CPW admits it has had cashflow problems over the years because of the hearings' escalating costs, but it has always fixed them.
Environment Canterbury (ECan) director of resource planning and consents, Don Rule, said final costs were being collated, but the hearings would cost about $2.1 million.
CPW had not been invoiced for the full amount, but when the decision was issued ECan was owed about $455,000, he said.
"Most of the debt relates to late last year from when the substantive work around the hearing was being completed. We have received irregular payments in the past two years, and interest has been calculated on the rolling balance."
Interest of $18,070 has already been charged.
This month, independent commissioners granted 31 conditional consents for the $135m project, which has attracted six Environment Court appeals.
The 71-day hearing ended on March 25 after spanning 2 1/2 years.
Rosalie Snoyink, of the Malvern Hills Protection Society, which represents landowners affected by the scheme, was shocked by the size of the debt.
The ECan debt raised further questions about the scheme's economic viability, she said.
"If this outstanding cost to ECan is not paid it will fall back on ratepayers again, and we'd be very upset about that," Snoyink said.
CPW chairman Pat Morrison said there had been a "fantastic" escalation in costs.
"We've spent more than we anticipated and borrowed additional funds," he said.
"Obviously over the years we've had cashflow problems, but we've always fixed them – and that will continue to be the case."
The company was discussing the debt with ECan, he said, and once a final figure was established "it will be paid".
- © Fairfax NZ News
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