No price tag, but views on dam sought

HELEN MURDOCH
Last updated 13:17 09/08/2014

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Opponents are querying why Tasman's public consultation on the proposed Waimea Community Dam is going ahead before the council knows the cost of the project.

The special consultative procedure (SPC) on the dam's management, ownership and funding is to be held around October.

At a Tasman District Council meeting on Thursday, opponent Maxwell Clark said the council was trying to manipulate the process.

"The SPC should not be held until the public know the cost of the dam," he said.

Council chief executive Lindsay McKenzie told the meeting it was likely ratepayers would be given a range of funding models, between $50 million and $80m, as part of the consultation process.

The proposed dam's current $42m price tag was estimated in 2009 and was likely to have risen. However, tenders could not be sought, and a subsequent model of costs developed, unless the project has a current resource consent, council managers have said.

Next year residents, armed with the tendered cost of the dam, would have a second opportunity to give their views on the project in the Long Term Plan (LTP) process, he said.

A resource consent for the dam's construction has been lodged by Waimea Community Dam Ltd, an offshoot of the Waimea Water Augmentation Committee.

The process is being funded by the committee. Resulting project tender prices are expected to be returned to the council by February in the lead-up to a final round of public "no or go" consultation in the LTP.

Waimea Irrigators chairwoman Mary Ellen O'Connor said in the meeting's public forum the council was facing its most expensive project ever, yet much of its discussion was being held outside the public arena.

There was also no-one in the council's "hand-picked" freshwater and land advisory group who opposed the dam, she said.

"How can you get a balanced view if you don't have both sides?"

The 11-member advisory group was formed from community nominations in January to maintain public and stakeholder involvement in future policy changes around Waimea Plains water quality.

O'Connor said Nelson MP Nick Smith had stated at a recent small private gathering that it would cost landowners $1500 per hectare to use water from the proposed dam.

The Nelson Mail later checked with Smith who said he supported the dam, the council's process was robust and it was likely he was referring to the increased value of land that could use the available dam water. "There will be an uplift in land values as a consequence of the Waimea Community Dam even if landowners do not chose to connect to it," he said.

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Golden Bay councillor Martine Bouillir acknowledged in Thursday's meeting that the council had held confidential meetings about the dam proposal and consultation using financial models seemed to pre-suppose the outcome.

"There has been a lot of discussion that hasn't happened in the public arena that should be happening," she said.

Richmond councillor Judene Edgar said public consultation so far had largely been irrigation-driven and the impact of a no-dam scenario had not been clarified.

"Because it has had such an irrigation focus it hasn't related to the people it needs to."

Acting Mayor Tim King said catching up with the wider business, industrial and residential community over the project was something the council had to do.

Meanwhile, the Waimea Water Augmentation Committee has agreed the Waimea Community Dam Company will become a council-controlled organisation.

McKenzie said the move would allow the company to access the council's statutory powers, like the Public Works Act and Local Government Rating Act, while still largely retaining water user ownership.

- The Nelson Mail

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