Councils back huge irrigation scheme

MATTHEW LITTLEWOOD AND SUE FRANCIS
Last updated 05:00 09/04/2014

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A massive South Canterbury irrigation scheme has received the financial backing of two district councils.

The Waimate District Council yesterday decided to back investment in the Hunter Downs irrigation scheme, with an initial payment of $31,250 for 1250 shares. This could rise to $250,000 if the scheme is built.

Timaru District councillors also gave approval for the council's holding company, TDHL, to invest the same amount.

Timaru mayor Damon Odey said it was a great opportunity for the region. "Big landowners have clearly indicated support. This is a massive economic opportunity on our doorstep."

Cr Steve Earnshaw said it could be a good strategic investment.

"It's only a small stake, but it keeps our toe in the water."

Hunter Downs Irrigation (HDI) hopes to begin construction in late 2016, with completion in 2019.

Waimate District mayor Craig Rowley said the council had to "take the lead" and show it would invest in the wider community.

He was confident that Environment Canterbury's Land and Water Regional Plan would manage the nitrates issue, and said the scheme itself would benefit the environment.

"There are some good environmental benefits with augmentation of Lake Wainono and reduced groundwater being taken from a lot of our smaller streams," Rowley said.

HDI, which has consents to irrigate up to 40,000 hectares of South Canterbury farmland north of the Waitaki River, launched its initial offer for 40,000 partly paid ordinary shares in March.

HDI hopes to raise more than $4 million from investors. The money would go toward the pre-construction phase of the project, which includes consenting, land access and construction capital-raising work programmes over the next two years.

Waimate District Council chief executive officer Tony Alden said the first payment of $25 a share would help fund the project's feasibility.

"If there are not sufficient properties taking up the offer, then all the funds will be returned," he said.

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- The Timaru Herald

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