Appeal likely over dam

Last updated 14:30 07/04/2010
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CONTROVERSIAL: The Mokihinui River, just upstream of the proposed hydro dam site.
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Conservation groups are considering appealing the decision to grant resource consent to Meridian Energy's Mokihinui hydro scheme on the West Coast, and are calling on the Department of Conservation to do so too.

Commissioners have decided two-to-one to approve the proposal, which will create an 85 metre-high dam and a 14-kilometre-long lake and generate between 310 and 360 gigawatt hours of electricity a year.

Those who submitted on the proposal in 2008 have 14 days to lodge an appeal.

Forest & Bird top of the south field officer Debs Martin said yesterday's decision document showed there was "plenty of grounds" for the society to appeal and she anticipated other parties would join it if it did.

The consent document listed environmental mitigation measures, but Ms Martin said none of those gave Forest & Bird "any confidence".

"This is a scheme of hugely significant magnitude for New Zealand," she said.

"Over 98 per cent of its catchment is on conservation land.

"If it's allowed to go ahead to destroy one of our most pristine environments, then we're not going to be able to stop any [hydro] scheme."

She said Forest & Bird would look for action to the Department of Conservation (DOC), which had put up "an unprecedented level of evidence in opposition".

West Coast Green MP Kevin Hague said he hadn't yet decided if a Green appeal against the scheme would go ahead, but it was "highly likely".

"The evidence about the conservation value of this place is so strong, it would be extraordinary to allow the consent decision to stand," he said.

Meridian must still obtain concessions for the project from DOC, so Mr Hague called on Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson to "do the right thing" and refuse the concessions.

DOC West Coast conservator Mike Slater said he was disappointed by the council's decision, given the overwhelming weight of evidence presented to the hearing, but DOC would not say if it was planning an appeal.

"We will be examining the decision document very carefully and considering a response," Mr Slater said.

Mr Hague said it was curious that the scheme had been granted consent when Stockton and Arnold River hydro schemes had been given resource consent.

"With that, the West Coast certainly would be self-sufficient in power and wouldn't need the scheme," he said.

United Future MP Peter Dunne had called the scheme "narrow-minded and backward", which Mr Hague said showed the depth of feeling against the proposal.

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As part of the consent, Meridian will carry out coastal erosion control works, a condition that has been welcomed by the Mokihinui Ratepayers Association.

Spokesman Brian Morgan said the coastal protection works would give local residents peace of mind about the area's future.

"Over the last 50 years, we have lost some 50 metres off the coastal front and land continues to be lost at a rate of between half a metre and a metre each year."

Mr Morgan said Mokihinui had little ability to fund coastal erosion protection works by itself and funding for such works was not available from local or central government.

Residents understood the potential for adverse environmental effects during construction and operation of the hydro project, but were satisfied these would be largely mitigated, he said.

Buller Mayor Pat McManus said he wished people would focus on the positive impacts of the dam, including providing employment opportunities for locals.

Construction was expected to take three years and employ more than 300 workers, dropping to six once the dam was up and running.

People should also take into account environmental gains that would come from the dam's construction through predator control and "all of those things that are going on", Mr McManus told Radio New Zealand.

He said the "silent majority" of local people supported the dam.

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- Nelson

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