Submitters discuss Tarras irrigation scheme

JESSICA MADDOCK
Last updated 05:00 02/02/2013

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There was passionate opposition to an Otago Regional Council proposal to invest in a $39 million Tarras irrigation scheme at a hearing yesterday, with submitters saying it would be using ratepayer money to benefit only a few.

The council is considering buying $3.5m of redeemable preference shares. It would also pay up to $500,000 annually for five years, toward the fixed costs.

Tarras Water is planning the scheme to benefit 40 families, by taking up to 73.6 million cubic metres a year from the Clutha River to irrigate about 6000 hectares.

Nearly 70 people lodged a submission on the investment proposal, with the majority in opposition.

Eleven submitters spoke at a hearing in Cromwell yesterday, before four council members. Eight opposed the proposal and three supported it. The first day of the two-day hearing was in Dunedin on Thursday.

Opposing submitters were against using ratepayer money to benefit so few, saying it could set a precedent.

Submitters were worried the irrigation could result in more dairying, and potential pollution.

"At Kellands Ponds [Twizel], the NPP [nitrates, phosphates and pathogens] test history for several years prior to irrigation and dairying was at minimal and acceptable levels. Within 18 months of large scale irrigated dairying commencing, these levels went through the roof," said Bill Gordon, of Omarama.

"We've heard it said we need to sacrifice some environment for the sake of earning overseas funds and jobs.

"Well, plenty of New Zealanders are saying we have already, right here, right now, at everyone's back door and it's enough."

There was concern rates would increase and the scheme's ongoing costs would place a heavy burden on the few farmer shareholders.

Wider "economic and social benefits" had been claimed, but there was a lack of detail, they said.

Hawkdun Idaburn Irrigation Company secretary Gerald Dowling, of Ranfurly, supported the proposal, saying its economic benefits would be regional.

Jobs and opportunities for support businesses would follow and land values would rise.

"The (council) does have a mandate to invest in regional development, in this case the Tarras Water application assisting in the future prosperity of the Tarras Ardgowan district."

Lindis Irrigation secretary John Morrison said his company had changed its neutral position to one of support.

"For the greater public good ... there can be no doubt [Tarras Water] must proceed."

The hearings panel would make a recommendation to council on whether it should proceed.

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