Editorial: Year in, year out

What's the difference between a shimmering vision, a hazy mirage or a mad hallucination?

Such questions dominated some of the most ambitious schemes to feature in the 2013 southern news file.

Poof went the proposed $180 million project to cut an 11km tunnel to halve the travel time between Queenstown and Milford Sound.

The scheme came up against a mountain of public opposition more implacable than any rock.

Conservation Minister Nick Smith emphatically bounced it, pronouncing himself unpersuaded that the developers had the wherewithal to deliver on their grand designs.

And now he's delayed his decision on the $200 million Fiordland monorail proposal for more information about issues of financial viability.

The Haast-Hollyford road - an idea we really, really like - is still awaiting backing from the Southland and Westland district councils for whom the devil is in the detail.

Solid Energy's ambitions for southern lignite were themselves buried during the year, while the A2B yacht race from Auckland to Bluff has been postponed.

The most emphatic big-ticket result was more maintenance than innovation - $30 million in Government triage to extend the life of the Tiwai smelter.

It was a controversial decision seen as corporate welfare, though the huge sigh of relief that issued throughout the south did not issue from a multinational corporation, but from thousands of families and hundreds of medium-to-small businesses.

Maintenance also loomed large on the civic front with the Invercargill City Council, in the words of deputy mayor Darren Ludlow, "growing a set" and approving a master plan for the sorely needed inner-city upgrade.

Thunderous commentators predicted punitive consequences at the local body elections - where, as it happened, every councillor who cast a vote either for or against the scheme was returned to office.

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright's report on water quality left no doubt that this issue remains among the most acute of any facing the south - and, yes, that the solutions must be found from urban as well as farming communities.

If these were all big issues, perhaps the single most compelling story of the year could scarcely have been smaller.

An aghast community read in September of a tiny Invercargill baby with a slashed throat and her mother receiving treatment for slashed wrists, after being reduced to a "zombie-like" state as the challenges of new motherhood were compounded by severe physical pain. The father's recriminations about the standard of post-natal care the family received are now matters of significant inquiry.

This was the year an Invercargill taxi passenger became nationally infamous, and eventually repentant, for his racist tirade at a Pakistan-born driver, when the census showed the southern population was no longer haemorrhaging (though Porirua has bumped Invercargill out of the nation's 10 biggest cities), the Sharks won the national basketball championship - and some clowns voted our beloved kakapo as the world's second ugliest animal.

There was a time when southerners would be fuming with indignation at such a cruel defamation as that one, but this time it was easily shrugged off.

We had more significant things to thinking about than minor provocations like that.

The Southland Times